On an average game day, a quick scan of the cover32 Vikings’ Twitter timeline will reveal two things: One, every loss is the referees’ fault and two, Trae Waynes is terrible.
It has been the sentiment shared by a significant number of Vikings fans for a couple of years now, dating back to the 2016 season when he tied for seventh in pass interference penalties. The frustration with Waynes seems to stem from a combination of youthful mistakes and where he was drafted. As a cornerback taken as high as he was (11th overall in 2015), there has been an expectation he would be a lockdown cover guy right away. The fact that All-Pro defensive backs Marcus Peters and Landon Collins went later in that draft has not helped his case.
So with a target on his back in 2017, how has Waynes performed in year three?
Well, Pro Football Focus, who we have cited on here several times, has Waynes graded as the 84th-best corner in the NFL. That would put him among the lowest of the low at his position.
Which begs the question: If Waynes truly is that bad of a cover corner, why is every team not throwing his way constantly? To answer this question and to truly evaluate what kind of player Waynes has been this year, I went through every snap he has played in 2017.
First of all, let us get this point out of the way: as far as cornerbacks go, Waynes is outstanding in run-support. Pro Football Focus credits him with seven stops in the run game, which is two more than any other NFL corner. He is third on the Vikings in tackles with 25, more than Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks, and he is tied for the team lead in solo tackles with 20.
Now, one could argue that the reason he gets so many tackles is because he allows so many catches. So let us take a look at the main source of frustration for Vikings fans: his pass-coverage.
If we examine every time he was targeted, ruling out screens and including pass interference penalties as catches, adding the penalized yards, then yes, Waynes has had some very bad performances. But he also has some good ones.
Week one was inarguably his worst. Against New Orleans, Waynes allowed five catches on six targets for 73 yards and a touchdown, which is an allowed-completion percentage of 83.3 percent and passer rating of 157.0. It was also the first instance of Waynes getting beaten badly on a deep ball, which seems to be fans’ biggest gripe with him.
He was marginally better against the Steelers, but again allowed too many big plays. This time he allowed just two catches on three targets for a percentage of 66.7, but those two catches (one was a long pass interference penalty) went for 100 yards. There was one other time when he got beat deep badly, but the Vikings were able to get a sack on the play. His actual targeted passer rating was 109.7, which while an improvement, is still above the 2017 league-average quarterback rating of 89.9.
Waynes was much better in coverage in week three against the Buccaneers. His allowed completion percentage was much better at 60 percent, three catches on five targets. He allowed only 40 yards and made a great play on a deep ball to get his first interception of the season, leading to a targeted rating of just 45.8.
Then in week four, Waynes once again played better. His allowed-completion percentage was the same as the week prior, three catches on five attempts. This time he allowed just 38 yards and a rating of 83.8. Though he did not record an interception, and thus a higher rating, one could argue that this was Waynes’ best game of 2017 thus far.
For the season, he has allowed a completion percetage of 68.4 and a passer rating of 106.8. For reference, the Vikings’ quarterbacks this year have a rating of 106.7, which is sixth-best in the NFL.
That is a lot of numbers to throw out. The best way to summarize Waynes’ struggles is that he got beat three times on deep balls in the first two weeks and that has drastically affected his statistics early on in the season. But the fact is that teams are not targeting him all that much; he has just 19 targets in four games. Granted, he is typically shadowing the second- or third-best receiver, but it is not as if there are a ton of plays to point to that show Waynes is a bad cover.
In short and intermediate routes, Waynes is pretty darn good; he made a great play on a short throw to the endzone just this past week. The deep balls that were haunting him in the first two games were nowhere to be seen in games three and four. His interception in week three off of Jameis Winston was on a deep ball where he was on an island down the middle of the field.
The fact is that Waynes has tape of poor play, no question about it. But his more recent tape indicates that he has largely settled those issues down. He is young so mistakes are bound to happen. But he is an elite athlete and a great tackler. If he continues to improve in coverage like he has the past few weeks, Waynes will make a great running mate for Xavier Rhodes.
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