Once again, the Minnesota Vikings are bringing along their top draft picks slowly.
Last year, first-round pick Trae Waynes played almost exclusively only when there was an injury in the defensive backfield early in the season. He didn’t play at all on defense in the first two games, then went 42 snaps in the Week 3 when Xavier Rhodes was limited. The following week, Waynes played one defensive snap and played sparingly over the next month.
This year, Waynes has proved to be a valuable commodity in the secondary, playing 220 defensive snaps in five games.
Now there seems to be some concern among Vikings fans that their 2016 first-round draft pick, Laquon Treadwell, hasn’t been playing much. The receiver corps was without their leading receiver, Stefon Diggs, in Week 5, yet Treadwell played in only eight offensive snaps.
General manager Rick Spielman referenced the Waynes situation when asked about Treadwell.
“When we have draft classes come in, now that we’ve been able to build and layer through the draft, it takes pressure off those guys to have to play right away. It gives our coaches an opportunity to keep developing them so when they do have to step in and play, they’re ready and they’re not forced into action too early,” Spielman said. “Last year, Trae Waynes was waiting his turn and we’re taking our time with him. How he played toward the end of the season, because we did need him toward the end of the season, and how he’s played so far in his second year shows that if you have the luxury or the flexibility to have time to develop those guys, that when their number does come up, they’re truly ready to go.”
There was a time that the Vikings boasted how many of their draft picks made the active roster. However, that isn’t always a good thing. It could just mean that the overall roster isn’t that strong and it’s a rebuilding year. Obviously that isn’t the case this year as the Vikings remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.
Spielman believes that the improved roster is giving coaches time to develop younger players in practice settings in the anticipation that they will be ready when needed on game day.
“I sit there and watch practice every day or watch practice tape every day if I’m out on the road college scouting and to see this draft class and the development of where they were Week 1 to where they’re at today, and watching these guys out here in practice today I don’t think our coaches do or I have any doubts that when these guys’ numbers are going to get called that they’ll be ready,” he said. “… It’s amazing how a four-week period can change a guy and how quickly all of the sudden they’re not thinking as they’re out there playing; they’re just playing naturally and how much more comfortable they feel in this environment, in the locker room and in the schemes.”
Treadwell has played in only 12 offensive snaps through five games and hasn’t been the target of a pass yet. With Stefon Diggs out on Sunday, Treadwell had a season-high eight offensive snaps but has begun to find a contributing role on special teams as a gunner and even recovered the Houston Texans’ onside kick on Sunday to seal the win.
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Diggs can be a lesson for Treadwell. Last year, Diggs was inactive for the first three games before exploding onto the scene. Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks had to wait a month before the Vikings traded Gerald Hodges and inserted Kendricks into the starting lineup.
“Fortunately, we have the ability to take our time and develop these guys so we don’t feel that it’s a necessity for them to come in and play right away and I feel we have some pretty good depth and it’s showing up,” Spielman said. “A lot of credit goes to the scouting staff and the coaches developing these guys. … When you have the luxury to take your time and play these guys when they’re ready and not force them in when they’re not, it’s helped us and it’s helped them become better football players.”