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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ opponents are attacking Trae Waynes – how is he holding up?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings have a full-grown defense.

Built on first-round picks, patient development and savvy free agent signings, they have matured during Mike Zimmer’s time into one of the best in the NFL for three years running.

Opponents have very few options against a defense that sent players from every position group to the Pro Bowl. Running hasn’t been an option this year as the Vikings have given up just 3.2 yards per carry, good for third in the NFL.

Throwing at Xavier Rhodes isn’t much of an option as he’s grown into a top shutdown corner, giving up just 18 receptions for 184 yards this season. Safety Harrison Smith is the No. 1 ranked player at his position by Pro Football Focus and Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are among the league’s best linebacker duos now that Barr is back to 2015 form.

And all of the Vikings’ success on defense runs through their ability to rush the passer with the front four.

That leaves Trae Waynes, a former first-round pick who has been slowly prepped for a starting corner job since being selected 11th overall in 2015. During his rookie year, he was only on the field for 18.1% of total defensive snaps. That number went up to 55.9% and this season he’s been on the field for 404 of 451 defensive plays (89.6%).

When the defense is fully healthy, opponents have no other option than to test Waynes. He’s the only player on the Vikings’ defense who hasn’t been a full-time starter before 2016 – if you don’t count Danielle Hunter, who had 12.5 sacks last season while technically coming off the bench.

Football Outsiders’ tracking data reveals that Waynes is the third most targeted cornerback in the NFL with 49 throws in his direction.

The interesting thing about those throws is that they’ve largely been deep balls. That may be situational – Drew Brees, for example, chucked a successful bomb in Waynes’ direction while trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter of Week 1. Jameis Winston, likewise, launched one up for a Waynes INT while trying to come back. His 14.4 Air Yard Depth per Target ranks ninth in the NFL.

How has he done as the target of opposing passing games? In the first two weeks, he certainly struggled, giving up 9-for-10 passing on throws his way to Brees, then he gave up a bomb and a long pass interference against the Steelers.

Since Week 3, opposing teams have had little success working the ball in Waynes’ direction. They’ve registered a 68.3 passer rating. He’s also done a strong job tackling, giving up only 41 yards after catch.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the quarterbacks the Vikings have faced since Week 3 have been Winston, Mitch Trubisky, Brett Hundley and Joe Flacco – a far cry from Brees and Roethlisberger.

Last season, Waynes had his two poorest games against Aaron Rodgers.

Overall he’s given up a 91.3 rating and ranks 73rd of 112 corners who have played enough snaps to qualify for Pro Football Focus ratings. We will have a better sense of where Waynes’ transition to a full-timer stands after the bye week. This week, the Vikings face the NFL’s worst quarterback DeShone Kizer, who has just three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But after the bye, they match up with Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton in succession.

His play during that stretch could be the determining factor of whether the Vikings pick up his fifth-year option next offseason.

It could also determine whether the Vikings are a really good defense or the league’s best defense. If Waynes continues his trend since Week 3, there will be nowhere for opposing offenses to attack consistently.

The post Vikings’ opponents are attacking Trae Waynes – how is he holding up? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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