The New England Patriots went eight years (2005-2013) without featuring a secondary that could get them over the top. Asante Samuel was decent, but after Ty Law left in free agency and Rodney Harrison started to suffer injuries like most older players, the defensive backfield was a nightmare. Bill Belichick knew this was the Patriots main problem and invested draft and free agent resources into the position(s) but they just couldn't seem to make it work. In 2012, Belichick was able to trade for Aqib Talib and the New England secondary was light years better. 2013 was also solid because Talib played most of the season, and Belichick was able to take advantage of playing man-to-man again. In the 2014 offseason, the unbelievable happened- the Patriots had a shot at Darrelle Revis and they landed him. Granted, they lost Talib to Denver, but it didn't matter because the Patriots landed the one guy they needed to push them over the top.
Low and behold, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and Revis was an All-Pro, returning to the form he showed with the Jets before he blew out his ACL in 2012. The Patriots signed Revis to a two year deal, but the second year of the deal was a ridiculous $25 million on the cap, so most believed New England would re-do the contract. Well, we are a week away from the day New England is forced to make a decision, and there is no guarantee the Patriots are going to keep the game-changing cornerback. If they decide to let him go, they need to look to the draft for a strong man-to-man cornerback that can help to fill Revis's shoes. Trae Waynes, a 6'1, 182 pound cornerback out of Michigan State, is a cornerback who fits that mold.
Trae Waynes has been making big plays on the football field since he was a junior at Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Waynes was ranked 94th overall by Scout.com and was listed as one of the top seniors in Wisconsin by Rivals.com. Waynes missed three games his senior year due to injuries, but he was still voted first-team all state by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association. Waynes was running a sub-4.4 in the forty yard dash in the summer of 2010 while also excelling in other sports. Waynes was a first-team all county outfielder and was also one of the top track stars in the state of Wisconsin.
In 2011, Michigan State redshirted Waynes so he could pick up the system and also get a little stronger. Waynes used that redshirt season to improve and it worked. In 2012, Waynes played in nine games, mainly on special teams, picking up five tackles. In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Waynes played most of the snaps at corner and had a strong game, making three tackles and half a sack. Waynes didn't start any games, but he was able to earn a letter and also show the coaching staff that he was ready to take over as a starting corner.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Waynes started all 14 games. Waynes had 35 solo tackles, 15 assisted, 1.5 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, five passes defended, and three interceptions. Waynes was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten and was also voted to the second team All-Sophomore by CollegeFootballNews.com. Waynes won the Tommy Love Award, an award handed out by Michigan State to the most improved defensive player. Waynes picked up three solo tackles and an interception in the Rose Bowl vs. #5 Stanford and he also finished with four solo tackles vs. #2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Waynes best game of 2013 came vs. Nebraska when he totaled five solo tackles, one fumble recovery and broke up a pass.
2014, from a production standpoint, was very similar to 2013. Waynes finished with 34 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, eight passes defended, and three interceptions. Waynes was voted second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, the Sporting News and Athlon Sports. Waynes was also voted third team All-American by the AP, Phil Steele, and was honorable mention for Sport Illustrated. Waynes went from a good prospect in '13 to the top cornerback prospect in the draft in '14.
Waynes has great length, which allows him to deal with taller wide receivers and his long strides give him the make-up speed to make plays that seem impossible. Waynes is also mentally tough, which is probably the most important attribute any NFL player can possess. Waynes only allowed two receiving touchdowns over the course of '13 and '14 and he made quarterbacks pay when they did try to attack him. Waynes is also very strong against the run and understands the team-defense concept.
Waynes length and speed makes it difficult for smaller receivers too, sometimes to the point where he intimidates them so badly that they are mentally taken out of the game. Waynes excels in bump-and-run coverage, but he has to get better with his hands or he is going to get as many holding calls as Brandon Browner. Although Waynes does have to improve his handwork and footwork, his raw ability translates well to the NFL and he should be a force in the secondary for years to come.