NFL Draft Preview 2015: CB Trae Waynes
This is another edition of our new daily feature: a look at NFL prospects ahead of the 2015 Draft. Each week, we will analyze our top-five prospects at each position, one per day. This is the second week of this series, and we will be looking at cornerbacks. Today’s corner is Trae Waynes out of Michigan State University.
Despite being only a two-year starter at MSU, Waynes established himself as one of the best cover corners in the nation that will be worthy of a first-round pick this spring. After being redshirted his freshman season and primarily playing special teams a season later, Waynes got his opportunity in 2013 as a redshirt sophomore. The defensive back would start in every game, recording 50 tackles, three INTs, and five passes defended. His good work earned him honorable mention on the All-Big-Ten team. After star corner Darqueze Dennard left for the NFL following the 2013 season, the defensive backfield was now led by Waynes. His finale as a Spartan this past year would not disappoint: he totaled 46 tackles, eight passes broken up, and three more interceptions. Waynes would receive several accolades in 2014 that included second-team All-American honors and first-team All-Big-Ten honors. He also was named a Thorpe Award semifinalist, given to the nation's best corner annually.
With today's NFL game being pass oriented, corners like Waynes are extremely valuable. Waynes is a big corner in terms of height (6'0", 186 lbs), and his size is well represented in the way he plays. This is a physical corner that has no fear of hitting opposing players and getting his hands on opposing receivers. Waynes flourishes as a man-to-man corner due to the fact he played a lot of press man in college under defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Rarely do you see this kid give an inch when it's one on one; he does a tremendous job of mirroring defenders and using his speed to run stride for stride. As we saw at the Combine, Waynes can fly. He ran the best 40 time of any defensive back last weekend, clocking in at a 4.31 official time.
The former Spartan also understands how to use that speed to finish plays. Getting out of his backpedal, Waynes knows how to close and break on the football. This ability shows he can anticipate routes thanks to superb play-recognition skills. Again, playing under one of the finest defensive coaches in the nation in Narduzzi (now the head coach at Pittsburgh) cannot be emphasized enough. What you have to love most about Waynes's game is his ball skills—he just has a knack for finding the football in the air and being in the right place to make a play. That's the kind of reputation you want to have going into the next level. If you get the chance, watch what Waynes did against Penn State this year. I think the footage from that game is a good representation of what he brings to the table. This play was a personal favorite of mine:
Sometimes Waynes's physicality gets him in trouble and leads to holding or pass interference. However, this might be expected for a corner who played as much man coverage as he was asked to at MSU. While he looked fine in zone when he had to play it, there wasn't a big enough sample size to make a call on that area of his game. Either way, he is going to have to play a lot more zone in the NFL, so he will need to continue to develop in that aspect. Playing against the run could use some work too; Waynes had a hard time shedding blocks on the outside and making open field tackles. At times, he struggled at pursuing the football correctly.
Waynes is the type of corner that has the ability to shut down one side of the field, and those type of players don't come around very often. The players we consider the best corners in this league—Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, and Patrick Peterson—are all exceptional man-to-man corners. Waynes has the capability to be the next great defensive back, and coming from an NFL-ready program like Michigan State, this kid is a pretty safe pick. With speed that will transfer well to the next level and mature coverage skills, the transition should be easiest for Waynes. Simply put, he is a play-maker at corner that can change the course of a game.
For each player I review, I like to give a few spots where I can see the prospect playing. Given Waynes's current climb up draft boards, do not be surprised if the corner is taken as early in the top-15 or top-10. A team in the top-10 that makes the most sense for Waynes is the New York Jets. Gang Green is in desperate need of secondary play and would like another corner to pair with Dee Milliner.
Waynes would play right away thanks to being pro-ready, and he would once again be privileged with playing for a fine defensive coach in Todd Bowles. Bowles ran a stellar defense in Arizona and was named AP Assistant Coach of the Year as a result. Learning from someone like Bowles, a guy who played in the secondary in the NFL and has coached defense for several years, would bring the best out of Waynes. The rumor is Antonio Cromartie could be heading back to New York and that would be a good player Waynes could learn from. Other good matches for the top corner in the coming draft would be New Orleans at 13 and San Francisco at 15, two teams who are lacking at corner and possess good defensive coordinators (Rob Ryan and Eric Mangini, respectively).