EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) —Another valuable piece has been added to the construction project on coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
The Minnesota Vikings fetched another first-rounder for their blossoming secondary Thursday night, selecting Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes with the 11th overall pick in the NFL draft.
“Everybody says I love corners, and I guess maybe I do, but I love good football players,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer traveled with general manager Rick Spielman to the Michigan State campus to meet with him prior to the draft, and the workout left an impression on Waynes.
“He’s a DB guru. That’s the one thing I took from him,” Waynes said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters. Waynes added: “If he can make me into half the player of Deion Sanders, we’ll be good.”
Zimmer once coached Sanders, one of the many standout defensive backs he has helped develop in his time in the NFL with Dallas, Cincinnati and now Minnesota.
Waynes was the highest the Vikings have taken a cornerback in their history. One of the two others they picked in the first round was Xavier Rhodes in 2013, the year after they took safety Harrison Smith on the first night of the draft.
The 6-foot, 186-pound Waynes left the Spartans after becoming a first team All-Big Ten selection in his junior season. The native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Bradford High School teammate of running back Melvin Gordon, taken four picks later by San Diego, Waynes had eight pass breakups and three interceptions in 2014.
“There’s no question about the athletic skill set,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said.
Or about the size, in a division with some of the most potent passing attacks in the league.
“You can probably write it down. We’re not going to take any 5-9 corners here. Rick and I have talked about that many times, because I like big guys,” Zimmer said.
Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson, two of Minnesota’s top three returning cornerbacks, are 5-foot-9.
Chicago’s choice of West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White with the seventh pick was yet another reminder of the twice-a-season challenge that Vikings defensive backs must face with their NFC North rivals. Zimmer’s reaction to the Bears adding another big wide receiver?
“I was glad they didn’t take Waynes,” he said.
Under coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who left this offseason to become the coach at Pittsburgh, the Spartans have had one of the most stifling defenses in the nation. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard was a first-round pick last year by Cincinnati.
“They’re a very disciplined football team. It’s fun to watch them play as a unit, because of how sound and disciplined they are,” Spielman said. “So to me it’s an advantage when you get a guy from Michigan State.”
Michigan State’s aggressive style is based on disruptive man-to-man coverage by strong cornerbacks on the outside of the formation, not unlike the 4-3 scheme that Zimmer installed with the Vikings last season. Zimmer said he saw “a little grabby” in Waynes’ game, a technical flaw the coach was confident could be corrected.
“Trae is a great person and one of the easiest guys to coach,” Narduzzi said in comments posted on Twitter by the Pittsburgh athletic department. “A fierce competitor, he is always up for a challenge.”
Spielman, as always, looked for ways to accumulate an extra selection or two for later in the draft by moving down, but the trade market was quiet. Spielman said the Vikings viewed their prospects ranked from eighth to 20th as similar in value, one explanation for the lack of moves.
“We did have a lot of activity that came up to us, but as you sit there and went through we had Trae Waynes very high on our draft board,” Spielman said, adding: “It wasn’t worth trading out to potentially lose him.”
Then there was the matter of Adrian Peterson, who has stated his preference to resume his career elsewhere. The Vikings have been steadfast in expressing their opposition to trading the star running back all offseason. Peterson was recently reinstated by the NFL from his suspension for the child abuse case he was involved in.
“I’m not getting into who called or not called. Adrian Peterson is a Viking. End of story,” Spielman said.
As for making a deal to move into the end of the first round, as the Vikings did for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last year and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson the year before, that didn’t happen, either.
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