Steelers Draft: Breaking Down Trae Waynes
Earlier in the draft process I was, admittedly, way too high on Waynes. I had pegged him as another prototypical press corner. Long, physical, physical, fast enough to cover down the field, and tough to beat at the catch point. Since going back an re-watching him I see that I was wrong with my initial profile of him.
The NFL seems to be obsessed with the notion of long and fast corners ever since the Steelers had success with them about 10 years ago and the Seahawks have replicated that success recently. It’s one thing to value these players because of past successes with the archetype, but it’s another to value this type of cornerback of on field talent. That seems like the direction that cornerback value is trending.
Like Derrik Klassen focuses on in his breakdown of Waynes for Football Savages, he is getting overvalued in many of the same ways that Justin Gilbert was last year. Gilbert wasn’t the only cornerback drafted in the first round with a favorable size-speed combination, either. Only one of the five corners selected in the first round last year were either 6’0″ or ran a 40 yard dash time of 4.40 or faster. These two things obviously aren’t the only factors that led to them being picked high, but they certainly held more weight for NFL teams than many other qualities.
Trae Waynes profiles as that type of cornerback in this year’s draft. He has the length NFL teams look for (6’0″ tall and 31 inch arms) and is one of the fastest cornerbacks in this year’s class (ran a 4.31 at the combine). When watching him on the field, however, he struggles to win in some of the most critical areas for cornerbacks. The way he uses his length and speed on the field will be enticing for every NFL team and amateur evaluator because they allow him to win in ways many others can’t.
In this first play against Penn State Waynes showcases what makes him so enticing as a press corner in the NFL. Waynes lines up slightly to the inside of the receiver, leaving the receiver no choice but to take an outside release on the play. Waynes does a nice job of being patient before jamming the receiver and once he initiates contact he forces the receiver off of his route before he can create separation.
In this play later in the game against Penn State Waynes lines up slightly to the inside of the receiver, forcing him to release to the outside again. Waynes does a good job of flipping his hips downfield without letting the receiver gain any separation. Once the receiver makes his designated break at the top of the route Waynes is able to re-flip his hips stay close enough to defend pass. Notice how, at the top of the route, Waynes’ hips and feet are in perfect sync with the receiver’s hips and feet.
This play comes later in the season against Ohio State. Although this isn’t on defense, it still showcases how Waynes’ speed translates to the field. Coming down on kickoff defense Waynes has a clear path to the ball and takes advantage. He closes on the ball carrier extremely quickly and makes the tackle. Despite Waynes’ slight build (only 186 pounds) he is consistently able to make tackles on the perimeter, which shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating him.
Going back to the Penn State game, this may my favorite play from Waynes in all of the games I watched. Although he doesn’t make contact early in the route he mirrors the receiver extremely well. Waynes doesn’t bite on the double move and flips his hips quickly to stay on top of the receiver. Waynes never gives up his position on top of the receiver, locates the ball, and keeps it in front of him.
If Waynes is able to consistently make this kind of play in the NFL then he could turn himself into a very good corner, but as of now he isn’t able to consistently make that type of play against college opponents. Now that I’ve covered the positive aspects of Waynes’ game here are some of the negatives.
This play is later in the game against Ohio State. The top of Waynes’ body is cut off at the top of the screen but you only need to focus on his lower half. As soon as the ball is snapped Waynes flips his hips and takes off upfield. I’m unaware of whether or not he was told to do this by coaches or just has a bad habit, but it leaves him very succeptible to underneath throws like what happened in this play.
The fact is, Very rarely does Waynes say square and flip his hips once the receiver eats up more of his cushion. He all to often turns immediately and creates too big of a cushion because of his elite speed.
In the next play showcases what is probably Waynes’ biggest weakness. He gives the receiver a cushion off the snap and just reacts too slowly to the in breaking route. This happens far too often when watching Waynes which makes it very concerning. It’s hard to tell what exactly causes the issue. It could be due to Waynes being too lazy with his footwork or trying to hard to prevent the receiver to beating him over the top. Although the play doesn’t result in a touchdown, Waynes will be able to be beaten consistently by receivers at the next level if he doesn’t fix the issue.
This play is from early in the year against Oregon. When is screen is thrown to the outside, Waynes does a good job of reading the play and breaking downhill. The part that is concerning comes after he engages with one of Oregon’s receivers on the edge. It would be ideal to see him disengage or even hold the block where he is to force the receiver back to the inside.
Instead, Waynes gets his hips turned out of the running lane and is unable to make any impact on the play. This happens far too much when watching Waynes for my liking. Although he is a good tackler on the perimeter, he consistently gets taken out of the play by any blocker who engages him.
This last play demonstrates another one of the things that could be a fatal flaw for Waynes if not corrected once in the NFL. In this play Waynes does a nice job of flipping his hips and running down the field with the receiver, but that’s where it all falls apart. Once down the field, Waynes gets his head around WAY too late and therefore is unable to locate the ball. What makes this even worse is that he continues to fall away from the catch point once the ball reaches the receiver.
Since the biggest reason the NFL targets long corners is to provide good defense at the catch point, Waynes’ tendency to fall away from the catch point is concerning. Although he ends up with the interception on the play, it was more due to an error on the part of the receiver than the merit of Waynes.
After finishing my second look at Waynes it is clear to me that he is not the top tier prospect that many think. While Waynes offers some fantastic traits, he has too many dangerous flaws to make him worthy of first round consideration. Waynes’ size and speed could allow him to develop into a solid number one corner down the road, but that would require him to improve in more areas than I would like to rely on.
Perhaps the best comparison for Waynes is a lite version of Gilbert’s running mate in Cleveland, Joe Haden. Similar to Waynes, Haden has elite speed and hip transitions that make him a dangerous corner to test down the field. They also share the same flaws in their footwork and ball tracking. Haden has the same tendencies to fall away from the catch point when defending down the field and have slow feet when reacting to quick breaks.
Haden has been able to refine the other parts of his game enough to compensate pretty well for his glaring weaknesses, but I have doubts that Waynes will be able to do the same because he has more flaws to handle. Waynes could prove to be a solid Number 2 or even a low end Number 1 corner in press scheme where he can utilize his length on the perimeter, but he will struggle heavily if drafted into a zone or off-man scheme (which the Steelers run).
Waynes is a solid prospect worth an early to mid 3rd round pick but the notion that he is a top tier cornerback and a top 20 talent is far fetched.
Next: Tomlin Visits Michigan State
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