clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2015 NFL Draft Prospects: Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

Waynes is, in many ways, the prototypical Steelers cornerback. Don't worry about scheme, worry about technique, Waynes can play as a Cover 2 corner as well as press man, and his instincts are excellent.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers cornerbacks are developed. A few rookies have gotten on the field as rookies, usually serving in sub packages or injury replacements. The better ones over the years have been brought along well within the system.

One thing they are not is first round picks. The Steelers haven't addressed the cornerback position with their first pick in a draft since Chad Scott in 1997. With the 22nd pick in the 2015 Draft, this may be the year they do that. If it is, and the pick is Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, it will have more to do with getting a good football player who's worth at least the 22nd pick than it will the team's sagging depth at the position.

Waynes (6-foot-1, 186 pounds) is a long, athletic and smart cornerback who has no issues providing run support and can cover well down the field. Too much gets made this time of the year about specific schemes played in college and zone vs. man coverage. In the end, every pass defender is covering someone. The key isn't his assignment, it's his movement. How well can be change directions? How fluid is he coming in and out of breaks? Cornerbacks are short-field, short burst athletes. Waynes, in a press man coverage scheme at Michigan State, shows he's capable of coverage in any scheme, and could find his way on the field early as a Steeler.

This is pretty much textbook coverage. Where the Nebraska quarterback thought this play could be made by the receiver is a mystery, Waynes has him looked down. Most impressive is his technique. He's mirroring the receiver step-for-step, and has his eyes trained on him. When the receiver indicates the ball is on its way, Waynes rams his arm into the receiver's to establish position, turns to locate the ball and goes up to make a play on it.

Interceptions are the result of getting in the right position. Watch the quick burst of acceleration Waynes has when he recognizes the ball is on the way, but he still plays within control. He could easily have barreled into the receiver and drawn a flag, but he turned back around, putting himself between the receiver and the ball, establishing his right to make a play on it, and came up with the catch. Getting a jam when playing this technique is as much about pressing an advantage onto a receiver. Waynes locks in on the receiver, waits until the receiver reveals where he's going, and right there, gets stuck by Waynes. Waynes has good technique for the position, and as he jams the receiver, he flows into it, instead of backing away from it. That's balance and coordination. Watch how he seems to drive forward into his jam, but not in a manner that moves the receiver - rather, he is working to beat the receiver, who's clearly running a short route, to the spot. Despite the receiver's efforts to arm-bar Waynes, the jam delivered by Waynes lands right at his center, which takes away any strength the receiver have with his arms. He is unable to fight off the jam, and Waynes can stay right with him as a result. One of the best traits he has is his patience. He isn't being fooled by gyrations and initial moves. He's literally like a mirror; moving up to and only as fast as the man across him. Watch how precisely he moves in sync with the receiver when he flips his hips toward the outside. Waynes is still shadowing him to his right, but Waynes sees the receiver's reaction and knows the ball is in the air. At this point, he flips his head around, and instead of wandering back to the inside on a flat angle, he's climbing up the field. That's a great sense of balance (try running and flip your head around to the side, then back around again). And he didn't only play man. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State's defensive coordinator is now the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, and he didn't earn that job by creating a static defense. Waynes shows man here from the snap, but he's dropping into zone, right as the inside receiver is going to corner post behind him. A well-designed play, if the Spartans were in man (Waynes would have followed underneath, leaving that spot open). Good vision by Waynes, seeing the inside receiver going behind him, and he simply drops into the passing lane. He had two picks in this game against Minnesota in 2013, the first two of his career. Waynes is a very solid all-around cornerback with good coverage skills. He's a smart, well-coached player, and by all accounts, a high-character guy. He'll need some bulk, but he has that same lanky frame as Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. And better hands. The Steelers have a need for a pass rusher, and those are hard to come by outside the first round, but if Waynes is on the board at 22 (a big if), the only thing harder would be to pass on him.