The Vikings’ first-round pick, No. 11 overall in the 2015 draft, cornerback Trae Waynes closed out his rookie campaign with arguably his best effort of the season in Sunday’s 10-9 wild-card loss to Seattle.
Waynes recorded his first-career interception and returned it 24 yards to help set up the Vikings’ second of three field goals. He also combined for three tackles and recorded two passes defended while filling in for injured cornerback Terence Newman.
This sort of effort is what many expected out of Waynes each week after coming out of Michigan State as a highly touted defensive back. However, the Vikings’ took their time working the top pick into the defense and it wasn’t until Week 3 against San Diego he played his first snap.
The slow progression led to some questioning Waynes’ ability to compete in the NFL.
“If you paid attention to the media stuff it was annoying ’cause people have expectations on the outside that don’t really know what’s going on in the inside,” Waynes said. “There was a lot of negative things.
“I had the luxury of having guys on the team like Terence, Captain [Munnerlyn], Xavier [Rhodes] and the rest of the guys and they helped me progress week-by-week and get better. I owe a lot of those guys credit for some of the things I did on the field.”
Waynes played behind cornerbacks Newman, a 13-year veteran, Munnerlyn, who is in his seventh season, and Rhodes, who was also a first-round pick in 2013.
Waynes started only one game, but got more snaps as the season progressed. He said that once he got the chance to show what he could do, the negativity started to fade.
“I thought it was funny, on social media [after Sunday's game] some guy was like ‘I retract all the negative things I said about you. You’re a heck of a player.’ … It’s funny stuff like that. But I don’t pay attention to that stuff ’cause at the end of the day outsiders’ opinions really don’t matter. It’s about who is in this locker room and the coaching staff and who is a part of this team.
“I’ve always been underrated, anyway. So that’s something I guess you could say I use as motivation, but in the same sense I’m just going to play football and do me.”
Waynes finished the season with 33 tackles, six passes defended and one interception. With Newman becoming free agents, there is a chance Waynes could slide into a starting role next season.
“I didn’t know what to really expect [coming in as a rookie], just like every other player. They don’t really know the future,” Waynes said. “I’m happy with the situation I was in, able to learn from the guys on the team that have been in the league for a while, so it worked out great.
“I think I’ve earned the coaches’ trust and if they need me to step in [next season], I think I could do it.”