Where will ‘underrated’ Trae Waynes fit next year for Minnesota Vikings?

Did Trae Waynes earn the coaches’ trust as a rookie? The “underrated” cornerback thinks so and he might be right.

Social media can be a blessing and curse to NFL players.

Cornerback Trae Waynes, the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round pick in 2015, says he doesn’t pay attention to it … and then talks about how one post on social media both humored him and motivated him.

“I don’t really pay attention to that stuff so it doesn’t really affect me,” he said after the Minnesota Vikings’ season ended in the first round of the playoffs. “I can’t give you a specific thing, but I thought it was funny how some guy on social media said, ‘I retract all the negative things I said about you. You’re a hell of a player.’ I’m like, OK. It’s just funny stuff like that, but I don’t pay attention to that stuff. There’s nothing to be gained. Outsiders’ opinions really don’t matter. It’s about who’s in this locker room and the coaching staff.”

Waynes ended up starting one game for the Vikings when their injury situation in the defensive backfield got so bad that they started undrafted rookie Anthony Harris at safety and moved cornerback Terence Newman to the other safety. Waynes then started for Newman at left cornerback.

Besides that, Waynes was used in spot duty, sometimes because of injuries and at other points where it made sense to try to get him some experience and rest Newman.

It was at least enough action to lead head coach Mike Zimmer to believe Waynes can be a capable starter if needed in 2016.

“I do, but he needs to come in and compete. I feel like he could be a starting corner next year, but it’s up to him,” Zimmer said. “He’s got to come in and compete just like everybody else. I’m not really going to hand out jobs (in January).”

Newman will turn 38 at the start of next season and hasn’t declared whether he will return or not. Zimmer said it would be largely up to Newman, but if he does return it may not be as a starter and it might even be as a safety instead of cornerback. All options are on the table at this very early stage before free agency and the draft.

Waynes said he learned throughout the season and credited the coaches and veterans like Newman for sharing their long-term NFL knowledge.

“I learned so much, especially from guys like (Newman),” Waynes said. “You know, he’s been in the league so long, so the knowledge he had is just a great opportunity for me, and I was fortunate enough for him to be able to share a lot of it with me.”

Waynes’ first preseason game resulted in multiple penalties as he tended to clutch and grab receivers more than is allowed in the NFL. But as the season progressed, he appeared to become more comfortable with the techniques and more confident in his abilities.

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“I think he’s improved in a number of different ways. He’s still got technique work to do. He’s starting to cover guys a lot tighter than he initially was,” Zimmer said. “He’s been better with his grabbing, penalties, or whatever. The biggest area to me is, consistently not allowing your guy to catch the ball.”

As a first-round pick, many expected Waynes to grab hold of a starting position early in the season. But with Newman performing adequately and the Vikings in contention throughout the season there was no reason to rush the rookie.

He didn’t sound disappointed that he wasn’t a full-time starter.

“I didn’t know what to really expect, just like every other player. They don’t really know the future,” he said. “Like I said, I’m happy with the situation I was in, able to learn from the guys on the team that have been in the league for a while so I think it worked out great.”

He ended the regular season with 19 tackles and five passes defensed. He got his first NFL interception in the wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks when he hauled in a deflected pass.

“It was a tipped ball and I just happened to be in the area and I was lucky enough to make a play on it,” he said, adding that all he wanted to do was hold onto the ball in the subzero temperatures, not necessarily return it for a touchdown.

While he downplayed expectations for himself, he admitted that the defense as a whole has “to prove a lot more to people” and will come out “more hungry” in 2016.

Waynes believes he has proved he can be a capable starter if called upon and has earned the coach’s trust, but he doesn’t care what others think his role should have been as a first-round rookie.

“If you paid attention to the media stuff it was annoying because people got expectations on the outside that don’t really know what’s going on on the inside,” he said. “So there’s a lot of negative things.

“I just brush it off. I’ve always been underrated anyways. That’s something that I guess you could say I use it as motivation. But at the same sense I’m just going to do football and be me.”


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