"He's the top corner and I don't think it's close."
The above statement given by the NFC director of personnel was in regards to Michigan State cornerback's Trae Waynes' sterling NFL Combine.
The 6'0'', 186-pound Waynes was among the cornerstones of a Michigan State defense that spearheaded the Spartan's top-five national finish in each of the last two seasons. Waynes started 27 games during his career in East Lansing and was the runner-up for the Jim Thorpe award last season given to the nation's best defensive back. A bump and run specialist, Waynes allowed just two touchdown passes against him over the last two seasons.
Waynes' performance at the NFL Combine received glowing praise by NFL.com, stating that Waynes was the "fastest cornerback at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.31 40-yard dash. Maintains feel for vertical threats and uses his frame to pin wideouts against sideline. Excels in deep, man coverage and can be smothering. Acceleration and length to contest any throw on the field. Well-coached and plays with proper leverage in coverage. Can be intimidating and disruptive against finesse receivers. Drives forward with burst and runs through targets, jarring balls loose. Wrap-up tackler who understands his responsibility against the run. Loves to compete in man-to-man and is mentally tough. Asked to play on an island and did so successfully."
One knock on Waynes is his tendency to grab receivers at the top of their routes, resulting in nine penalties called against him over the last two years. His anticipation on passes was also questioned, something that could be helped by quality coaching at the NFL level.
The bottom-line assessment of Waynes was overwhelmingly positive. "He's a bump-and-run cornerback with the length, deep speed and confidence to handle himself down the field against speed," the unnamed NFC director of personal said. "His 4.31 40, smooth hips and overall fluidity displayed at the combine could make him a much earlier pick in the draft than previously projected. Waynes carries a very high ceiling"
Waynes' attributes are reinforced when watching his highlights, particularly his ability to pick off deep passes (the 2014 Rose Bowl) and pin receivers against the sidelines (the Nebraska game shown at about the 1:15 mark of this video). While no player is a sure thing to succeed on the NFL level, Waynes looks like the real deal.
Ranked as the top cornerback in the draft and the No.12 best player in the draft by cbssports.com, chances are good that Waynes could be selected before the Steelers are on the board with the No.22 pick in the first round. But if he available, it seems like a no-brainier that Waynes will be picked as the Steelers' No.1 draft pick.