In the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings used the #11 overall pick on Trae Waynes, the cornerback out of Michigan State University. Based on the numbers alone, Waynes didn't have a huge year as a rookie. He managed to start just one game, and made a significantly greater impact on special teams than he did on the Minnesota defense.
According to NFL.com, however, it would be unwise for fans to forget about Waynes, as they've listed him as five members of the 2015 rookie class that appear to be poised to make an impact in 2016.
Waynes only played 215 snaps during his rookie season. This happened for several reasons -- for one, the Vikings got an incredible 981 snaps out of 37-year-old Terence Newman, who re-upped for one more year in March. Also, under head coach Mike Zimmer, the team prefers to bring along cornerbacks slowly. It is one of the toughest positions to develop at the next level, with some scouts listing it right behind quarterback at the top of their list. The Vikings spent their second-round pick on a corner this year (Mackensie Alexander) who could factor in as a dime player and Captain Munnerlyn is plugged in at nickel (with Xavier Rhodes at the outside corner spot). Still, there was some raw ability and instinct to like in the little bit of tape Waynes put out last season. His lone start against the Cardinals had some good and bad, but was underscored by a pretty consistent level of aggression and physicality. Newman was a joy to watch last year, but our guess is that he will not play close to 1,000 snaps again this year, with Waynes figuring to get a bigger piece of the pie. We recognize that this prediction will require us to suspend some belief about how the NFL works and how impatient coaches can get, but the physical tools are there. Will he be a Pro Bowler in 2016? Probably not. Is there a good chance he could double or maybe triple his snap count from his rookie season? Yes.
First off, I had no idea that Newman played so many snaps last season. . .makes the season he had at the age of 37 that much more remarkable. But Conor Orr, the author of the NFL.com article, appears to be pretty spot-on here. I don't know if it's realistic to expect Newman to play as big a role in Minnesota's defense in 2016 as he did in 2015. Moreover, Mike Zimmer and George Edwards have gotten a year to mold Waynes into the type of cornerback that fits the Vikings' scheme.
Frankly, I expect Waynes to come in this year and, at the very least, challenge Newman for the starting cornerback spot across from Rhodes. I'm guessing he's going to be given every opportunity to claim that spot as his own. With Rhodes, Waynes, and the addition of Mackensie Alexander, the Vikings look to be stocking up their secondary for the long haul. It's certainly a far cry from the days where this team was calling Benny Sapp to come back off of his couch and immediately start at cornerback, that's for sure.