Vikings: Waynes 'everything that we were looking for'
Michigan State went more than 50 years without a defensive back being taken in the first round of the NFL Draft before Darqueze Dennard went 24th overall last season to Cincinnati.
On Thursday night in Chicago, Trae Waynes made sure the wait for another would be brief.
The Michigan State cornerback, who was a second-team All-American in 2014 and was a Thorpe Award semifinalist, went No. 11 overall to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2015 NFL draft.
Waynes became the 35th first-round draft pick for the Spartans and is the highest pick in Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio's tenure.
"The overall package with Trae Waynes was everything that we were looking for," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "We spent a lot time with Trae in the offseason, a lot of time at the combine. Myself and coach (Mike) Zimmer personally went to Michigan State to work him out. His length, his speed, his ability to play man coverage fits exactly what we're looking for in corners in this scheme."
Spielman not only liked Waynes' ability on the field, but loved his approach to the game and had plenty of praise for Dantonio and his staff.
"Not only the player you see on the field but also character and work ethic," Spielman said. "We talked to the coaches at Michigan State and the type of kids that come out of that program are not only great character guys but are NFL-ready players.
"(Michigan State) is a very disciplined football team. It's fun to watch them play as a unit because of how sound and disciplined they are. They do a great job at Michigan State developing their guys and developing them in their system. To me it's an advantage when you get a guy from Michigan State, especially in our situation on the defensive side. They do an exceptional job with their kids."
It was the first time Michigan State had cornerbacks taken in the opening round in consecutive years, becoming just the sixth school to accomplish that feat. Last season, Dennard became the first Michigan State defensive back to go in the first round since Herb Adderley in 1961.
It was also the first time Michigan State has had first-round picks in back-to-back years since 2003 when wide receiver Charles Rogers went No. 1 to the Lions, a year after running back T.J. Duckett was taken first by the Atlanta Falcons.
"He is a very physical in run support player," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "I think he is a complete corner. The ability is there, the toughness is there, the instincts. He checks all those boxes."
Waynes will get to develop those abilities under Zimmer, an accomplished defensive coach, and do so in the NFC North, a division full of big receivers the likes of the Lions' Calvin Johnson.
"I can't wait," Waynes said. "Coach Zim is a DB guru and I can't wait to see what kind of player he can turn me into.
"I can't wait to go up against all of (the top receivers). They're really great players. They're just going to elevate my game and make me a better player overall."
Waynes started 27 straight games for Michigan State and had six interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 101 tackles.
But it was his speed (4.31 in the 40) and size (6-foot-1, 182 pounds) that stood out to most, including Stanford coach David Shaw, who saw Waynes firsthand when the Spartans beat the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl after the 2013 season.
"This kid, when you watch him, he is comfortable," Shaw said on the NFL Network. "He is so fast. He's not worried about anybody running by him. He reminds me so much of Richard Sherman. He's long, he's lean, he's comfortable, he's physical and will come up and hit you in the face. He loves the game of football. We got by him in the Rose Bowl a couple of years ago and half a quarter later he came back and got us. You can't run by this guy."
But Waynes does have his detractors.
"He's got to be able to tackle better," ESPN's Jon Gruden said. "There are times I thought he was liability at Michigan State as a run defender. He has blinding speed, has a lot of ball production, six career picks, 27 starts, All-Big Ten. But to be a Pro Bowl corner at the next level this kid better pick up his tackling."
Nothing scared away the Vikings, however, who said they had plenty of trade offers but once they knew Waynes would be available, they weren't wavering.
"I know for the last week we've been kind of sweating that he might go before we get a chance to pick him," Zimmer said. "To me it's extremely important that you have guys with great character, great leadership and are great competitors. That has always been big to me. And I guess they say I love corners and I guess maybe I do, but I love good football players more than great corners."
Waynes was joined at the draft in Chicago by Dantonio, co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett, and quarterbacks coach Brad Salem, who was Waynes' primary recruiter when he was a two-star prospect from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"Trae Waynes is a tremendous football player, with great toughness and hitting ability," Dantonio said in a statement. "Trae is a lock-down corner, who played an important role in our success the last two years. He's an excellent press corner, who's often been isolated against our opponent's top wide receiver. He has great deep-ball judgment and the ability to tackle in space. Physically, Trae has length and great make-up speed. He has a lot of experience playing in big games and high-pressure situations. There's no question that he'll be an outstanding corner at the next level."