It's not always easy to find talented players in the NFL draft that also happen to provide excellent character both in the practice room and off the field, but the Vikings certainly think they've found one in Trae Waynes.
In the opening presser two days before the draft, general manager Rick Spielman took care to emphasize character in their scouting evaluations and said a few guys were off their board for character concerns. One of the appeals of Waynes, according to Spielman, was his sterling character—something you can see if you look at some of the scouting reports built off of access to NFL scouts.
"I know that we've always tried to do our best in identifying character guys and if they are going to fit in our scheme and in our locker room and in our organization," Spielman said last night.
Known not just as a hard worker in the film room and the practice field, but as a coachable player who takes direction well, Waynes impressed Spielman last night once more.
After his selection was announced in the draft, he evidently visited a Children's Hospital. Spielman's brother-in-law has a friend whose daughter was in the hospital, scheduled for cleft palate surgery. Waynes took the time to visit her and someone snapped a picture and texted it to Spielman.
This kind of character is something the Vikings have been emphasizing the past few years. That feeling of "fit" within the locker room has been a particular focus for them and a phrase they've dropped in previous pressers, like Spielman did two days ago:
"We spent a lot of time going through some of these guys that are potential character or problem guys that you have read about, we spent time with them here in Minnesota, we spent time with them out on campus. We want to make sure these guys that have potential character issues, if they're going to be a fit or not."
Sometimes, that will eliminate a player from the board entirely. "There are some players, just to be honest with you, that regardless of where they're graded, whether they're a top round player or potentially a later round that we wouldn't bring in at all even as a free agent," Spielman revealed without specifying which of those players it may be.
That's not a hard and fast rule, of course, and the front office is willing to give a chance to some players. Just yesterday he brought up that he won't exclude every character concern. "There's always going to be guys that do come out, young people make mistakes, and you have to try and make the best determination you can, if he's learned from that mistake and if he's going to be able to mature and grow up."
He was building on his opening statement two days ago in his predraft presser, "Some guys we can say, "Maybe not take at the point at the draft where he could potentially get drafted or is talented, but we'll take a swing if he's still there in the next round."
The process for finding those players is extensive. Not only is Mike Zimmer an extensive part of the process as he sits down with players and talks to them, there's an exhaustive investigative team and detailed psychological profiles employed by the team to that end.
"[The psychological consultants] do a lot from the psychological standpoint and we get a lot of different results - combatted attitude, social maturity, coachability. We've got 10 different categories that we look at. I'm not going to go into all 10 but those are a couple of examples of it," Spielman said. "It still comes down to interviewing these players, sitting in front of them, spending time with them and getting to know them as people.
"You've done, and I've looked back at thousands and thousands of interviews, and you always go back in your head, "Who does this kid remind me of?" and "What happened to that kid?" just like you do evaluating players. Then there are guys that, like I said, I just look straight at Coach Zim, "Can you handle this guy or not handle him?""
A lot of the psychological testing is part of a greater movement the Vikings are making towards analytics, but a lot of it has to do with making sure that they can find the right pieces—schematically and in the locker room—with the players they currently have.
A lot of you are familiar with my feelings on Trae Waynes as a schematic fit with the Vikings, but don't mistake that for disliking the person. He's an excellent human being.
At the very least, Mike Zimmer thinks you'll like him:
"You look back at our picks from a year ago, with Teddy and Anthony and now Trae. All these guys are the same kind of character people and it will bode well for the future of the Minnesota Vikings ... I want to make sure the guys we bring in are people our fans can be proud of."