To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.
This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.
Coming in at No. 11 on our list is cornerback Trae Waynes.
It took a couple years longer than some Vikings fans would have liked, but Trae Waynes should be a full-time starter at cornerback this season.
The Vikings selected Waynes with the 11th overall selection in 2015 because of his size, speed and potential to be a pretty good press corner at the NFL level. But he could not overtake veteran Terence Newman as a rookie and then started the 2016 season behind Newman, too.
That might have said more about Newman than Waynes, though. Pro Football Focus graded Newman as one of the league’s top cornerbacks last season, even better than Pro Bowl teammate Xavier Rhodes.
As last season went on, Waynes played more and more, starting six of the final eight games, with Newman rotating in for Waynes or Rhodes. He was far from a shutdown corner. But Waynes showed progress by defending six passes during that stretch and picking off a pass in the finale.
The Vikings brought back Newman for another season, but throughout the spring it was Waynes who lined up as the first-team left cornerback. Newman, meanwhile, was most often spotted defending the slot.
So it looks like coach Mike Zimmer is ready to take the training wheels off Waynes, who will turn 25 in a couple of weeks, and push him out into a full-time role. Some wobbles are to be expected. Whether he remains upright or continually crashes will be a key factor for the defense.
Opposing quarterbacks will likely be looking to avoid Rhodes, who shut down Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. and a few other top receivers in 2016. So Waynes is going to be targeted often, especially early on. Will he hold his own and reward Zimmer and the Vikings for their patience?
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
11. Trae Waynes, CB