Vikings CB Trae Waynes isn’t ready to start

Vikings rookie CB Trae Waynes drew red flags in our draft evaluation -- and those same issues have followed him to the preseason.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Vikings CB Trae Waynes isn’t ready to start

The Minnesota Vikings have played three preseason games now, and already we are seeing that not much has changed for their top pick, cornerback Trae Waynes, since our evaluation ahead of the 2015 draft.

Waynes was selected with the No. 11 overall pick, but he didn’t even rank among our top five prospects at the position based on our grading every snap of his final season at Michigan State. He clearly had speed to burn, as his 4.31 40-yard dash time reinforced, but his tape threw up other questions about his game, and PFF’s grading and coverage numbers strengthened those concerns.

Through Waynes’ first three preseason outings, we are seeing little evidence that Waynes has improved on those weak spots in his game.

In the Hall of Fame game against the Steelers, Waynes was undone on multiple occasions by receivers pulling double moves on him, causing him to panic and grab hold of his man; he drew three penalty flags in the game.


He also showed in that game a trace of his biggest strength – walling off a receiver on a deep route down the sideline. This is where Waynes excels. With his straight-line speed, he can run with any receiver in the NFL, and throughout his college season we saw him utterly unconcerned by deep speed.

And he was challenged deep often in college. Of his 59 targets, 19 of them (the most of any route) came on go patterns down the field. On those plays, Waynes allowed just five receptions and a quarterback rating of 39.9. If all Waynes had to do was defend the deep sideline against a straight go route, he would be worthy of his first-round status. Against other routes, however, he struggled significantly more.

On any of the bottom branches of the route tree (bubble screens, slants, quick outs), Waynes gave up a catch every time he was targeted. Literally. Opposing QBs had a 100 percent completion against him on everything short last year. His numbers are far worse on all other routes compared to his performance on go routes alone. Taking those go routes out of the data, he surrendered a catch on 62.5 percent of targets (the go routes mean his overall completion percentage was just 50.8 percent on the year — a far more respectable number). The passer rating he surrendered jumps from 39.9 defending only go routes, to 60.4 overall.

His numbers were already middle of the pack when it comes to the college landscape, but if you exclude those go routes they look pretty awful. That passer rating allowed would be the 122nd-best mark in the nation among corners. The completion percentage would be 309th. We are talking about the first cornerback drafted here.

Obviously, you can’t dismiss one aspect of his game, and I’m not trying to. Trae Waynes can cover straight go routes with the best of them, and that is not an easy skill. But the passing game is a diverse and nuanced beast in the NFL, and we are already seeing the signs that NFL offenses are going to test him far more extensively throughout the rest of the route tree than the NCAA did last year.

He has been exposed in each of his preseason games – surrendering a catch of at least 35 yards in two of the three. To put that into perspective, Chris Harris Jr. and Vontae Davis, our top two graded cornerbacks last year, didn’t allow a catch of more than 30 yards between them all season. Waynes simply looks like a player who struggles to change direction.


As notable as his 4.31-second 40 time was, a more important number for his future prospects may be his 4.39-second 20-yard shuttle time. Defensive backs almost always run a faster 20-yard shuttle than their 40-yard dash. Only six corners in recent seasons have posted times in the other direction, and it is not a list made up of successful NFL players.

This is a numerical red flag, but Minnesota very well might have felt as though it could coach him up in some of the weak areas of his game, building off of his rare straight-line speed. Perhaps the Vikings will be right, and Waynes will prove to be the best cornerback in the 2015 draft class, but as of now, it looks as though Waynes at least needs to spend his rookie season learning from the sidelines.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • scott

    I can’t beleive he is not getting better. Not good.

    • Justin

      Yea I mean my god after 3 whole preseason games too? I think it is time to pull the plug on his career. In fact lets just right off any players who are not at the top of their respective positions after 3 preseason outings. Good call.

      • PetEng

        Top 15 pick. Lots of other rookie CBs are doing better than him. I thought high draft position meant immediate production.

        • Scooter Woods

          Well, we all know history has proven THAT to not be the case. Who’s your team?

  • Chris

    Jesus guys CB is one of the hardest positions in the NFL. Rhodes Struggled his first year too.

    • Rhodes Closed

      Only during that preseason he did. His first year he put up good numbers.

  • Mnstorm99

    LOL, let me know next year. three pre-season games at CB does not tell me anything. Zimmer has coached up too many CB for me to doubt already.

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  • Voigt94

    I love the Gif of Waynes in his third preseason game against the Raiders where he “didn’t improve”.

  • Mike O

    Waynes will be fine. I played college ball and CB is very difficult. He is very talented and Zimmer is one of the best at coaching up CB talent. That’s proven. After he gets some experience we will see. He should adapt, learn, and make big leaps in his coverage ability.
    Go Vikings!

  • Monte Hansen

    It’s truly pathetic that PFF has to dog on the Vikings because Zimmer pointed out that they’re system is inherently flawed. They have absolutely zero credibility now and I couldn’t care less what garbage they spout off about because their system is garbage.

    • PetEng

      By no credibility you mean,
      “the most credibility of any football analytics organization”
      or “the single most referenced source of player grading within football”
      or “a well established company that provides large amounts of data to NFL and college football teams”?

  • Scooter Woods

    Come on PFF, grow a pair and make the call- you think Waynes is a bust. Don’t hide behind the ‘well, we’re not saying he won’t be good…’ bs, all you’re doing is betting against yourself. Man up and make the call…then, live with it. This wuss-out stuff is getting very tedious. You want to be THE experts then walk the walk. Any fool can manipulate the numbers after the fact, get your cred up by actually calling your shot ahead of the contest. No excuses…you play, you win, or you lose. Then you will be in the same boat as the real honest to God football people who actually PLAY THE GAME, prep for it, live their careers to go out on Sunday and deal with all the intangibles that make your analysis 50/50 at best. BTW,I believe the call as to whether he is ready or not belongs to someone else…someone actually involved in the game real time.

  • CB Guru

    Jumping the gun much, PFF? Waynes was introduced to both outside and nickel responsibilities in training camp, which is asking a rookie CB a lot. It shouldn’t be a shock at all to see a CB (even 1st-2nd rnd talent) struggle and show weakness in their first season — much less 3 preseason games! C’mon guys, at least wait until you have a few regular season data points to evaluate.

  • Felton51

    PFF did say caveat emptor about Waynes before the draft. I’m still a little surprised the Vikes did not take a WR. This is still a very sturdy defense and a team certainly on the rise.

  • Thinkaboutit

    Looked decent against the Cowboys

  • Nick Flack

    This should come as no surprise.
    His college tape shows glaringly that he is very good in obvious running downs and covering deep. He is AWFUL when giving any cushion at the line. He guesses allot and assumes his straight line speed will make up for his mistakes. It is one thing to look like you know what your assignment is but need reps to adjust to speed like Xavier did. Waynes looks like he’s playing without regard for the assignment while lacking the physical tools to succeed with that mindset.

  • naturallythe1

    Vikes could have had Marcus Peters…wow…lol