The Minnesota Vikings had 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft. One year after their selection, it’s time to look back on their careers before joining the Vikings, their rookie seasons and a preview of what lies ahead of them during their sophomore seasons.
The Minnesota Vikings had a single first-round selection in the 2015 draft and that was Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. There was some debate about who the best cornerback was in the 2015 draft, but the Vikings decided it was Waynes and made him the first corner off the board at No. 11 overall.
Before the Vikings
In three years at Michigan State, Waynes recorded 71 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions, 13 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. The team redshirted Waynes his freshman season as a way to give him more time to recover from a devastating knee injury he suffered his senior year in high school. His role as a redshirt freshman was almost specifically on special teams, but that changed the next season when he started in all 14 games. He returned for his junior season, when he once again started in every game and also recorded 34 tackles, one sack, three interceptions, eight pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
What the Analysts Said
“If you’re looking for a press cornerback - and, trust me, Mike Zimmer loves his corners - this is the guy. Waynes is very comfortable in press coverage. And, if you play defense at Michigan State, you’re well-coached.” - Mike Mayock
“He’s a bump-and-run cornerback with the length, deep speed and confidence to handle himself down the field against speed. Waynes plays too handsy for NFL officials and that could show up on Sundays. His 4.31 40, smooth hips and overall fluidity displayed at the combine could make him a much earlier pick in the draft than previously projected. Waynes carries a very high ceiling.” - NFL.com bottom line
“Waynes might have cemented his status as the top corner in the 2015 class with his spectacular showing on the turf in Indy. The ex-Spartan posted the top 40 time among defensive backs (4.31 seconds) and exhibited the kind of athletic prowess that is routinely associated with blue-chip prospects. From his outstanding footwork, quickness and agility, to his strong hands and ball skills, Waynes has all of the tools to be an elite playmaker at the next level. If he can continue to refine his footwork and fundamentals as an ‘off’ cover, Waynes could be the consensus No. 1 corner by the draft.” - Bucky Brooks, NFL.com
“Waynes looks like a No. 1 cornerback who is capable of going head-to-head with primary NFL receivers. He is a tall, long corner who can cover big receivers. His height and length let him prevent wideouts from making catches over him. Waynes also is fast enough and athletic enough to run with them in and out of their breaks to prevent separation. He even has the speed to run with speed receivers, so he is capable of covering any kind of No. 1 wideout.” - Walterfootball.com
The Vikings coaching staff did their due diligence of testing Waynes’ strengths and weaknesses during offseason workouts. They had him working both on the outside and in the slot. It didn’t take too long for them to have him focus strictly on the outside, though, as it became clear that playing in the slot was not his forte.
Waynes struggled some in his first couple games of the preseason, but they had Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman to man the two starting jobs, so most of Waynes’ season was spent on special teams as he continued to develop and learn the ins and outs of playing cornerback in the NFL.
He did see the field, on occasion, during his rookie season because of injury and looked comfortable during those appearances. He played in 215 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and recorded 30 tackles and four pass breakups during the the regular season. He was also forced to come in during the Vikings’ only playoff game and recorded three tackles, one interception and two pass breakups.
The way things sit right now, it appears Waynes will once again have the role of a backup in 2016. He has primarily been working on the second-team defense this offseason with Rhodes and Newman taking first-team reps, after the Vikings re-signed Newman this offseason.
There is a chance, however, for him to surpass the 37-year-old Newman, who will turn 38 in September. It will be difficult to do, but a strong preseason and training camp could do it.
Waynes has all the tools necessary to be a shutdown cornerback in the NFL, but he still needs to work on the finer points of playing the position, most notably working on his footwork and fundamentals in off coverage.