After a bit of a rough start during his first couple of seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, the young corner has proven to be a valuable part of the team’s defense.
When one thinks of this current Minnesota Vikings defense, the popular names that come to mind include Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr among a few others. Not too often will Trae Waynes get mentioned, at least not initially anyway.
Of all the roles assigned to each player on the Vikings’ defensive unit orchestrated by head coach Mike Zimmer, Waynes may very well have the most unique assignment.
Since opposing quarterbacks have a knack of hesitating when throwing in the direction of Rhodes, Waynes, by default, has a heavier workload in the secondary as he becomes the easy target to compensate.
Despite having to face the gauntlet of hell from passing attacks in 2017, he has not only shown poise in both accepting and embracing his role, but after last season he progressed to the point of being a very reliable player and providing great value for Minnesota’s highly touted defense.
There’s a saying that goes, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” And while it’s nice that Waynes experienced success in 2017, it’s the journey that got him there that should be appreciated.
Coming into last season, Waynes had his strengths and his, let’s just say “yeah, buts”.
Arguably, the biggest strength he displayed up to that point was that he was very capable of recovering and putting his body in favorable positions to make plays on the ball, despite sometimes mistiming a step in coverage.
The “yeah, but” to that is when it was time to make the play on the ball, Waynes far too often would react in errant fashion. He either mistimed his jumps, was late in attempts at deflecting passes and worst of all, he drew penalty after costly penalty.
After playing just 18 percent of the defensive snaps in his rookie year back in 2015, Waynes saw more action during his sophomore season in 2016. He ended up playing 15 games with eight starts and 56 percent of all defensive snaps. That year, he also drew seven penalties including four pass interference calls for 48 yards.
In fact, what is so frustrating about the penalty calls against Waynes for most of his young three-year career was that he seemed to have a natural reaction of grabbing his assigned receivers while the ball was in the air. He would do this despite being in position to possibly get an interception or worst case, bat the ball down.
It appeared panic driven. Similarly to how a basketball player unexplainably misses a wide open layup while the other nine players are on the opposite end of the court.
People began to wonder if Zimmer would ever be able to get through to Waynes and if the young corner would ever get the mental aspect of his game down.
Then came 2017, when Waynes picked up where he left off. He drew three penalties in the first five weeks of the season, including a costly pass interference call on a 2nd and 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2, resulting in a 49-yard gain.
But then, Waynes began to show resilient discipline in his play as he drew just one penalty during the remainder of the regular season.
Drawing non-stop penalty calls is a sure-fire way to take the edge off your play simply by beating yourself. Minimizing these mistakes is what may have sparked Waynes’ improved level of play and confidence, thus allowing him to play more free.
Waynes’ progression in 2017 even drew praise from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.
"“Each week he’s gotten better and better and better, and I think it’s gaining the confidence, gaining the swagger.”"
Add on his improved play in coverage and exceptional tackling skills along with being one of the best cornerbacks against the run (despite his thin frame), and you’ve got yourself a heck of a football player.
Waynes is not Xavier Rhodes, but he doesn’t have to be.
In demonstrating the discipline necessary to take on the task of a heavier workload against opposing quarterbacks, Waynes took a giant leap in his development last season and proved to be of great value on this current Minnesota defense.
The destination that he has reached as a player is incredible, but the journey should not go unnoticed either.