When the Vikings used a first-round pick on Trae Waynes last season, the thought was that he would be brought along as a complement to Xavier Rhodes and veteran Terence Newman. Instead, Rhodes, Newman and slot corner Captain Munnerlyn monopolized almost all of the cornerback snaps, leaving Waynes almost exclusively as a backup (minus injury situations) who saw very sporadic playing time.
That all changed in the hours leading up to the regular season opener. Rhodes was warming up and heard a pop in his knee, sidelining him for two weeks and forcing Waynes into the starting lineup.
So what do the deep-dive numbers tell us? For starters, take a look at the week-to-week snap count percentages. The numbers following the player names are the percentage of the snaps they took each week.
Week 1 – Waynes (100), Newman (97), Munnerlyn (57), Mackensie Alexander (3).
Week 2 – Newman (97), Waynes (94), Munnerlyn (82), Alexander (8).
Week 3 – Rhodes (74), Newman (70), Munnerlyn (65), Waynes (51), Alexander (12), Marcus Sherels (5).
Week 4 – Munnerlyn (97), Newman (85), Rhodes (68), Waynes (47).
Week 5 – Newman (89), Rhodes (86), Munnerlyn (75), Waynes (25), Alexander (19).
The first thing that jumps out at you is the value that Newman and Munnerlyn have been to the secondary. While Rhodes has received the lion’s share of attention for his work against players like Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, Newman has consistently been playing the most among the outside cornerbacks.
Munnerlyn’s numbers are relatively easy to determine. The more he is on the field is in direct correlation to how often an opponent lines up in three- and four-receiver sets. The Packers are running more and using numerous two-tight end sets. As a result, in Week 3, Munnerlyn was on the field for just 65 percent of snaps. When the Giants came in with a game plan of not allowing Eli Manning to be sacked, they lined up in three-receiver sets almost exclusively. As Munnerlyn was on the field for 97 percent of snaps, linebacker Chad Greenway was on the field for just two plays.
The return of Rhodes from injury has been done judiciously. In the three games he has played, he has been in the lineup 74, 68 and 86 percent of the time. Expect to see those numbers stay high as the season continues.
Once Rhodes returned, Waynes was used markedly less. In the two games without Rhodes, Waynes was on the field 100 percent of snaps in the opener and 94 percent against Green Bay in Week 2. His playing time has been significantly cut since Rhodes returned, posting play percentage numbers of 51, 47 and 25 percent – a consistent drop. However, if the Vikings can get comfortable leads, look for Zimmer to use Waynes to spell Newman, which would have the two-fold effect of resting a 38-year-old veteran and getting Waynes more experience in his second season.
Alexander has been similar to many of his 2016 rookie counterparts, seeing sporadic action. His numbers went up last Sunday primarily because the Vikings had a comfortable lead and the defense began rotating players in the second half.
To assess the numbers to date this season, Rhodes has been getting the majority of the attention for his strong play against elite receivers, but both Newman and Munnerlyn have been used heavily with Waynes proving he belongs and can make plays.
All things considered, expect to see a lot more of Newman and Munnerlyn on the field and the younger players being mixed in with small doses. The Cornerback Whisperer has a plan in place for his younger students, but for now it’s a win-each-week mentality.