The Minnesota Vikings made Trae Waynes, a CB out of Michigan State, the #11 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Waynes was considered by many to be the top CB available, but some draft analysts criticized him for a number of reasons, including hip flexibility and difficulty handling inside routes. Last Sunday, Waynes saw his first NFL action in a live game against the Steelers in the Hall of Fame game. In the game, Waynes showed he still has a long way to go before he becomes a starter across from Xavier Rhodes like the Vikings hope he does.
To begin, I’d like to offer a few caveats to my analysis of Waynes. First of all, the NFL doesn’t release the All-22 tape of preseason games. This is really frustrating, particularly when you’re trying to watch CBs or WRs, because half of plays those guys don’t even stay on the screen. So, you’re only going to see plays where I could actually watch Waynes, which means that he was likely being targeted on those plays. So, he could be playing very well (or very poorly) on the plays I can’t see, but I have no way of knowing. There are still a few things you can glean from those plays, particularly technique on backpedals and flipping his hips, but I didn’t notice any severe issues.
The second caveat I have is that Waynes does best when he’s in press coverage, and he really did not play press in this game. I have a feeling this was intentional on the Vikings’ part, to help identify areas where he needs to improve.
Third and most importantly, this is just a preseason game. It doesn’t count. Playing poorly in the preseason isn’t a death sentence for a player by any means, especially a CB, where it takes a significant amount of time for a player to adjust to the NFL game. Preseason isn’t super useful for evaluating players, except to identify areas they need to work on. That’s what I’m trying to do with Waynes in this article, identify areas where he needs to improve. Please don’t read anything more into it than that.
With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at how Waynes did when guarding receivers:
1-10-PIT 11 (Q1, 7:01) 30O-C.Stingily right guard to PIT 16 for 5 yards (50-G.Hodges).
On this play, Waynes is at the bottom of your screen lined up across from CJ Goodwin. It’s clear that Waynes is in man coverage on Goodwin, you can tell because he is looking directly at Goodwin at the snap. If Waynes were in a zone coverage, he would be looking at the QB. Ignore everyone else on this play, because that’s not important for Waynes. His responsibility is to cover the receiver. That’s it.
This play from Waynes concerns me for two reasons. The first reason is how Waynes bites on the outside jab by Goodwin, and gets his hips turned the wrong way. Goodwin easily has Waynes beat on the inside. To be fair to Waynes, flipping his hips outside like that may actually be what he’s taught to do. Because the play is a run, it’s impossible for me to tell what the coverage was supposed to be outside of Waynes and Jabari Price (the other corner) playing man. Waynes could only have outside responsibility on the play, and another player could have been responsible for in-breaking routes. However, watching Price, I don’t think that’s the case. So, Waynes needs to not let himself get flipped around by a receiver’s jab step. If this play had been a pass, it would have been an easy completion from Jones to Goodwin because of Waynes biting on the outside fake.
The other reason I’m concerned with this play is that Waynes shows his lack of hip flexibility. It takes him just a short amount of time to flip his hips, but it takes longer than it should. In order to recover on a route like this he needs to be faster with it.
2-5-PIT 16 (Q1, 6:19) 3-L.Jones pass short middle to 89-M.Spaeth to PIT 30 for 14 yards (34-A.Sendejo).
On this play, Waynes is once again in man coverage, at the top of your screen. And, this time, he does a very good job against Sammie Coates. He stays in step with him and is positioned perfectly to defend the curl route. The pass was not thrown in Waynes’ direction because if it had been Waynes was in perfect position to break it up.
2-7-PIT 49 (Q2, 9:23) 3-L.Jones pass deep right to 19-S.Phillips to MIN 16 for 35 yards (34-A.Sendejo). Penalty on MIN-26-T.Waynes, Defensive Holding, declined.
First, let’s get the jersey grab out of the way. That’s bad. Waynes might have been able to get away with that in college but it definitely won’t work in the NFL. He needs to stop doing that. Outside of that, it’s really difficult to figure out what the heck Waynes is doing on the play. The way the LBs drop back indicates that they are in zone coverage. It’s certainly possible that the Vikings are running a zone coverage, but it’s hard for me to tell with these angles. Furthermore, the type of zone they’re running would be important. Without really being able to see the safeties too well, I can’t tell. So, it’s possible that Waynes has zone responsibility on the outside around the first down marker. If that’s the case, Phillips running by him is not his fault. But the way Waynes reacts to Phillips’ route (grabbing at him and then chasing) and the fact that Waynes is looking directly at Phillips tells me that Waynes is in man, and that means the results of this play are his fault entirely.
If you slow down the second gif, you can see Phillips take a jab step to the outside before he cuts up field. It’s not even a particularly good one, but it gets Waynes to bite on that route and he ends up totally out of position. This is the second time he’s bitten on a WR’s fake, and it’s obviously something that you can exploit him at, because he played way too aggressively here. That’s clearly something that needs work, because if Phillips had caught the ball cleanly this could have been a TD.
3-12-MIN 18 (Q2, 8:31) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass incomplete deep right to 15-D.Gardner (92-T.Johnson).
Landry Jones has to rush his throw on this play and it’s off the mark by a lot. However, that should not detract from the good coverage Waynes had on the play. He stayed with Gardner, and won the hand check battle, knocking Gardner off balance. That kind of contact between DBs and receivers is legal, but you have to be careful not to overdo it or you could easily get an interference penalty, as we’ll see later. Also, while he let up at the end, he was able to do so because he did a good job of paying attention to where the ball was. You can see him look up, and he can see the pass is totally off the mark, so he really doesn’t need to pursue.
1-10-PIT 30 (Q2, 4:14) 3-L.Jones pass short right to 18-C.Goodwin to PIT 43 for 13 yards (26-T.Waynes).
Here, Waynes is once again in man coverage. Unfortunately, the part of this play that actually matters for Waynes isn’t available, because both he and the receiver are off the screen. However, it’s clear that Waynes did was not ready for a comeback route, and he’s out of position, which allows Goodwin to make the catch.
2-10-PIT 43 (Q2, 3:01) 3-L.Jones pass incomplete deep middle to 14-S.Coates.
The important part of this play is once again off the screen. Jones is also off-target with his throw, so it’s pretty difficult to evaluate Waynes, who is in coverage on Coates. It’s clear to me, however, that Coates has a step on Waynes on his dig route. Waynes does a good job of recovering (after the pass is already past), but if Jones is on target Coates would have had a catch.
2-7-MIN 40 (Q2, 2:00) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass incomplete deep right to 14-S.Coates 92-T.Johnson. PENALTY on MIN-26-T.Waynes, Defensive Pass Interference, 38 yards, enforced at MIN 40 – No Play.
On this play Waynes shows his recovery speed. He’s incredibly fast and it’s going to serve him well when covering deep routes in the NFL. He’s slow to turn around and loses a step to Coates, but he regains that step in the next ten yards. It’s impressive acceleration, because Coates is pretty fast too. Waynes gets his hands on Coates at two different times on this play. The first is at the 27 yard line, right when Coates begins to accelerate upfield. Coats puts his arm in Waynes’ chest and Waynes goes to knock it down. This isn’t illegal contact because Coates initiated it. The second time is what gets Waynes the Pass Interference call. At about the 8, he goes and hooks Coates’ left arm. This is a common tactic by CBs, and you can sometimes get away with it, but it’s pretty obvious on this play and rightfully gets called. If Waynes had let Coates get his second hand up, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but he didn’t, so the Steelers got to get the ball at the 2.
3-10-PIT 20 (Q3, 11:34) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass incomplete short right to 19-S.Phillips. PENALTY on MIN-26-T.Waynes, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at PIT 20 – No Play.
Waynes’ coverage on this play is excellent. It’s completely textbook, except for one thing. When Phillips turns around Waynes has a fistful of jersey. He might have been able to get away with that in the Big Ten, but he’s not going to be able to get away with it in the NFL and he got caught here. That grab was unnecessary and Waynes would have made a great defensive play here if it wasn’t for that one (very important) thing.
2-10-PIT 23 (Q4, 12:08) 3-L.Jones pass short right to 19-S.Phillips to PIT 31 for 8 yards (26-T.Waynes).
If Jones had been on target with the throw to Coates earlier (the play at Q2, 3:01), this is probably what it would have looked like. Jones does not make a perfect throw here either, but it’s catchable for Philips. Honestly, unless he jumps the route, which could end up disastrous if it’s a double move and a deep route, there’s not much Trae Waynes can do on this play. In-breaking timing routes beat man coverage unless you disrupt the timing. Waynes does not press on this play and therefore doesn’t really have a way of doing that. He needs to defend against the possibility of a deep pass and therefore he has to let Phillips get a step on him to the inside, which is enough for a completed pass.
3-2-PIT 31 (Q4, 11:27) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass short right to 13-D.Archer to PIT 36 for 5 yards (45-B.Peters).
On this play Waynes is lined up against Phillips in the slot. Waynes is once again too handsy on this play, and this should be illegal contact. He initially engages Phillips when they are 6 yards past the Line of Scrimmage, and you’re not allowed to do that after 5 yards. He also stays in contact with Phillips until they are nine yards downfield. Since Waynes got away with it, he ended up with good coverage on Phillips, and was in the proper position on the out-breaking route. To me, this shows that Waynes can do a good job when he is allowed to be physical with receivers.
1-10-PIT 36 (Q4, 10:46) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass incomplete short right to 19-S.Phillips.
Once again, Waynes disappears from the screen on the most important part of the route, so it’s hard to judge this play. However, play close attention immediately before Waynes leaves the screen and you can see him turn his hips to the outside, another mistake. He appears to recover pretty well, though, and he’s right on top of Phillips when the ball arrives. The pass was bad, but Waynes might have been able to make a play on it if it wasn’t.
2-10-PIT 36 (Q4, 10:42) 3-L.Jones pass incomplete short left to 19-S.Phillips. PENALTY on PIT-19-S.Phillips, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at PIT 36 – No Play.
On this play Waynes is the CB at the very top of your screen on Sammie Coates. This time, he’s more physical than he’s been on most of these plays, but he does not do a very good job. He reaches out to knock Coates off his route and either totally misses or just doesn’t affect him at all. Coates is then able to get past Waynes and have a couple of step on him going upfield. Waynes is left to chase once again. His speed might have saved him, but we can never know that because the pass went to the other side and Coates let up.
Another area of concern I have with Waynes is his tackling. He did not do a good job of it in this game. Let’s take a look:
1-10-MIN 16 (Q2, 9:10) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass short right to 13-D.Archer to MIN 18 for -2 yards (26-T.Waynes; 58-B.Watts).
Dri Archer proved difficult for everyone on the Vikings to tackle and Waynes was no exception. Here, Waynes takes a bad angle and ends up diving at Archer’s feet. It did spin him around, but if this wasn’t next to the sideline Waynes’ attempt would not have been effective at all. He needs to take a better angle and actually wrap Archer up.
3-10-PIT 43 (Q2, 2:59) (Shotgun) 3-L.Jones pass short middle to 13-D.Archer to MIN 43 for 14 yards (54-E.Kendricks). Penalty on MIN-94-J.Trattou, Defensive Holding, declined.
Another play that’s bad form by Waynes. He needs to put himself in a position to wrap Archer up, not just dive and flail at him.
In the Hall of Fame game against the Steelers, Trae Waynes showed that he has a number of things to work on. One focus should be on the use of his hands, as he committed three penalties during the game. He’s a physical player, and that’s fine, but he was way too grabby. If he can’t play without grabbing receivers, that’s going to be a big problem. Secondly, he needs to work on recognizing fakes from WRs. There were a number of times in the game where he got turned around or lost position because he bit on a jab step by a receiver. Thirdly, he needs to work on the angles he takes in the passing game. Missing tackles is not acceptable and can be a very dangerous thing for CBs to do because those missed tackles often result in big gains or TDs.
However, it’s not all gloomy for Waynes. He showed his speed, which is a big part of his game, and he also showed plays where he had good coverage. I’d expect he had more than what I showed here, but it’s really not possible for me to tell because I don’t have access to the All-22 for this game. It’s also worth noting again that Waynes didn’t press at the line of scrimmage in this game, which is something he’s very good at, so this analysis is totally missing that dimension of this game because the coaches didn’t have him do it. It is, after all, only preseason. The Vikings want to put Waynes in adverse situations and see how he responds and also to identify parts of his game that he needs to work on. I tried to do in this article what the Vikings are doing in real life: identify weak spots.