When I think of an NFL cornerback, I think of the pick-sixes into the end zone, the Deion Sanders’ high-steps or the post-game Richard Sherman tirade. They ooze confidence, and swagger comes with the territory of the position, especially when recognized as one of the best. The position is in dire needing of an upgrade when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With Ike Taylor on his way out, and a grouping of misfits and cast-offs from other teams, a standout is needed. In this year’s class, there seems to be Trae Waynes, then everyone else. True, Marcus Peters is arguably the most talented, but could be the second coming of Adam Jones. But after last weekend’s combine, it looks to be Waynes in a class of his own, as he firmly entrenched himself as the top corner in this year’s draft class. His parents, Ron and Erin Waynes, both ran track at Kansas State and it was apparent Trae is their offspring. He blazed a 4.31 40-yard dash on the Indianapolis turf, receiving a $100,000 bonus from Adidas for his top-3 time at the event.
Growing up, under the watchful eye of his father, Trae was heavily involved in sports.
Upon realizing he had the opportunity to play football in college, his focus shifted to that, and his led him to the success he has today.
One of those close friends is Heisman finalist and ex-Kenosha High School teammate Melvin Gordon, another first round running back hopeful. The two speak everyday, often picking each others’ brains as to what questions teams may ask at the combine.
At Michigan State, he cut his teeth playing special teams until an injury forced him into the lineup in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl versus TCU in 2012. It was a spot he’d never relinquish.
Last year, it was Darqueze Dennard, the Cincinnati Bengals first round pick. This season, it was Waynes, and he flourished, grabbing first-team All Big Ten honors.
Never a big talker, Waynes shows no fear nonetheless. Most of the time at MSU, he was blanketing the opposition’s top wideout.
“I’ve never had an issue with going up against an opponent’s No. 1 receiver,” he said. “If coaches told me to do something, I’d be like, ‘All right, let’s do it.'”
When asked about how he would fare against monsters like Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson, he simply said those types are a different breed of dinosaur, hardly seen in the collegiate ranks.
“It would be a whole different approach in how I would even go up against them,” he said. “But if the coach told me to do it, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it.”
On MSU’s defense, corners must play a ton of man coverage, locking down the receiver in one-on-one battles.
A lot of scouts said this already has given Waynes the inside track on his success translating to the NFL. They believe the scheme there gives adapts them to a certain technique that’s already pro-ready.
“I always kind of look at myself as a technician,” Waynes said. “That’s something I really take pride in. I’d always try to work on my footwork. The easier that became, then I could incorporate my hands, and that’s something I practice daily. When I first started playing, I didn’t use my hands enough.”
Now, he uses them plenty, something that will get him in trouble in the NFL.
Being a longer corner at nearly 6-foot-1 will help against the larger receivers, but his footwork will be key, and that’s another thing that stood out at the combine.
“With bigger receivers, you don’t always have to arm wrestle with them — you’ve just got to get in front of them and throw off their timing with the quarterback,” he said. “I feel like the better your feet are, the more patient you are, the easier that is and you don’t always have to get in a scuffle with them.”
Waynes already has a player in the league who he likens his style of play to, and that’s Cleveland Browns‘ corner Joe Haden, who like Waynes, isn’t much of a talker.
After his solid performance at the combine, Waynes has likely catapulted himself out of reach of the Steelers. With as many as 7 or 8 pass rushers predicted to go in the first round, anything is possible though, and if a run on them starts early, we all know teams panic and reach. That could possibly slide Waynes into the laps of the team, who should then beat Waynes’ 40 time of 4.31 when running to the podium. After all, the last time the team drafted a Spartan, it seemed to work out pretty well for them. The Hall of Famer Deion Sanders said it best about Waynes and the defensive backs at the combine.
“Trae Waynes solidified himself as one of the elite amongst this group, he can flat out fly. He’s really smooth in his ball drills and breaking and coming in and out of his breaks and I like that.”
That’s some pretty high praise from one of the best to ever do it.