A Look at Trae Waynes in Year 3
The Vikings are on day two of their trip across the pond and two days away from their London matchup against the Browns.
Sunday's game (8:30 a.m. CT) will mark the halfway point of Trae Waynes' third NFL season since being drafted 11th overall in 2015. Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com recently delved into the cornerback's progression and contribution this season as a starter across from Xavier Rhodes.
Coller pointed out that Waynes played just 18.1 percent of defensive snaps as a rookie; 55.9 percent in 2016; and this season has been on the field for 89.6 percent of snaps on defense.
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.
According to Coller, Football Outsiders' tracking data identifies Waynes as third-most-targeted corner in the league.
Coller said that Waynes struggled in Weeks 1 and 2 against the Saints and Steelers but has done considerably better since then.
[Opposing quarterbacks have] registered a 68.3 passer rating. He's also done a strong job tackling, giving up only 41 yards after catch.
Vikings land in PFF's top-10 power rankings
After starting 5-2, including three consecutive wins, and currently sitting atop the NFC North, Minnesota is hard not to notice.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus included the Vikings in the top 10 of their power rankings, for the first time this season, after Week 7. The article explained its rating system:
PFFELO is an iterative system that updates each team's rating after each game based on two things: how well they played against their opponent and how well they were expected to play against their opponent. The PFFELO rating system measures the former using our unique offensive, defensive and special teams grades, while the latter is determined by the PFFELO ratings leading up to the game and where the game is played.
Minnesota ranked 10th in the league after last week being at No. 12, and PFF said its five-win record came in a way "far different" than its 2016 experience.
It all starts with the league's best defense, which boasts superstars at every level. Defensive end Everson Griffen has recorded a sack each game, while adding four quarterback hits and 12 hurries. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes faced the likes of Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans through the season's first three weeks, and since then teams have mostly avoided him. He's yielding only 0.75 yards per coverage snap and a 56.1 passer rating into his coverage through seven weeks, which are among the league's best at the position. Harrison Smith's 93.7 overall grade is the league's best among safeties.
NFL.com pegs Case Keenum as fantasy sleeper for Week 8
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer announced Friday in London that Case Keenum will be Minnesota's starting quarterback against the Browns Sunday.
According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, Week 8 is "shaping up nicely for Keenum's fantasy outlook." He told fantasy football competitors that conditions are ripe for a big game from the Vikings signal caller. Franciscovich wrote:
[Stefon] Diggs reportedly logged a full practice on Thursday, signaling that his return from a groin injury is highly likely on Sunday in London. He'll add a dimension to the Vikings pass game that they've been missing and should open up better opportunities for guys like Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph.
Franciscovich said Keenum should "thrive even more" after the news that rookie defensive end Myles Garrett did not travel with the team due to being in concussion protocol.
The Browns have allowed 14 pass touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks this year, well over the league average of 9.9. That total equates to a 6.45 percent touchdown rate for opposing signal callers, the highest in the NFL (league average is 4.38 percent). Plus, The Browns pick rate of 1.84 percent is well below the league average of 2.45 percent.