For a lot of fans, the Kansas City Chiefs cornerback situation doesn’t look particularly good.
After cornerback Keith Reaser went down with injury, boundary cornerback depth became a thing — especially with Kendall Fuller focusing exclusively on nickel cornerback duty. Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward currently look to be the starting boundary cornerback tandem, but one name kept popping up when the Chiefs needed a player to run with the first team due to injury: D’Montre Wade.
An undrafted free agent out of Murray State University, Wade was selected to the Senior Bowl and participated in the Scouting Combine. He joined the Chiefs after the 2018 NFL Draft and stuck with the team until the 53-man roster cutdown date. He signed to the practice squad the next day and was with the team throughout all of the 2018-19 season.
But what does Wade bring to the table for this Chiefs team? What kind of attributes does he have and how do they fit with Steve Spagnuolo’s defense? Is he more than just a camp body?
For those who are wondering about what Wade is bringing to camp this year, let’s turn on the film and check out some of his strengths, weaknesses and his fit ahead of the 2019 season.
It’s no secret that new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to run significantly more zone coverage in than we saw with Bob Sutton last season. I’ve covered several of those looks in this year’s Summer of Spags series. With that in mind, the ability to read the quarterback and quickly process route stems to drop into coverage zones will be paramount for the Chiefs cornerback group.
Fortunately, one of Wade’s best attributes is his ability to do just that.
When you're a small-school player like D'Montre Wade, you want to see major production against that level of competition. Wade definitely did, with 6 INT's his senior year.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 1, 2019
He's good at reading the QB and jumping routes in zone, something that will line up nicely with Spags. pic.twitter.com/URrY8EiaH2
Wade played a lot of zone coverage at Murray State, particularly with “bail” technique — opening his hips and zoning off into the deep part of the field to protect against vertical routes — and he showed a knack for reading the quarterback and driving on the route.
Any time I look at smaller school prospects, I want to see dominance over a group of players that historically do not translate to the NFL. Wade definitely had that, tallying six interceptions and seven pass breakups in 10 games — even though teams did not regularly regularly throw in his direction; they didn’t want to.
Two of the other attributes cornerbacks need in Spagnuolo’s scheme are length and long speed. A former running back, Wade has that extra gear in his recovery speed to help carry vertical routes — even if his unofficial 4.57 40-yard dash didn’t show it. Coming in at 5-feet-11 and 206 pounds, Wade’s 32-inch arm length is more than enough to play on the boundary for Spagnuolo.
Wade has good enough vertical speed and fluid hips to flip and carry vertical on the boundary. Here, he exhibits good shuffle, doesn't bite fully on the double move, and is able to stay glued to the hip of the receiver while squeezing the boundary for a PBU. pic.twitter.com/gSfOirmxfI— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 1, 2019
This clip shows good shuffle technique with his eyes in the backfield. He doesn’t bite on the double move, then flips his hips and is able to stay with the receiver while squeezing the boundary. He does well to attack the player as the ball arrives, resulting in an incompletion.
Wade’s running back experience can show up in his lateral agility as well. His transitions through the receiver’s breaks allow him to stay in phase with the player on slants and quick outs, despite giving a cushion — something Spagnuolo will ask his cornerbacks to do on second and third and medium.
Wade's hip fluidity shows up when defending crossers and out routes as well. The receiver sets him up initially with the inside release, then cuts back outside. Wade is able to fully recover from opening his hips and drive on the out to shrink the window in the endzone. pic.twitter.com/rB7dCMHXhK— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 1, 2019
Here, the receiver releases vertically, then sells an in-breaking route before running an out route in the end zone. It’s designed to get the cornerback to commit and open the throwing lane to the boundary.
Wade bites on the feint, opening his hips to the inside. However, his hip fluidity — and ability to transition through breaks with his feet — allows him to snap back outside and shrink the throwing window quickly. The throw has to be floated over the top rather than driven to the receiver, and Wade is able to make a play on the receiver at the catch point to force an incompletion.
Watching Wade showed a handful of concerning behaviors that will need to be overcome to be effective in Spagnuolo’s scheme. The first and foremost is his ability to drive on underneath routes quickly. Before we dive in, it is worth noting that these plays happened before a year of NFL coaching.
One of the spots where improvement is warranted for Spags is his click and close to drive on underneath routes. His plant-to-drive is slow, giving way too much space and time on underneath routes. His hesitance gives the receiver time to set him up for extra yardage as well. pic.twitter.com/FkE5cfNVPm— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 1, 2019
When scouts discuss a cornerback’s ability to “click and close,” they’re referring to the player’s ability to plant his foot and drive downhill toward the catch point or the receiver. While watching Wade. too often I saw an inability to click and close to these underneath points.
Wade’s plant comes with a significant transition, reducing his ability to click and close — a surprising trend given his other transitions — and that gives far too much space to underneath routes. Spagnuolo will often play his cornerbacks in space and ask them to drive on flats and bubbles regularly. Wade’s slow transition in this regard allows easier yardage — and also allows the receiver more space to work with when the ball is in his hands.
The above clip also shows a hesitance to engage the receiver early, breaking down well short of the ball carrier. I did see this on a handful of other occasions as well. Wade is a good tackler and not afraid to mix it up in run support, so hopefully this is a coachable fix for him.
Even though he is able to punch the ball out, Wade's jump-timing is poor. Leverage, footwork, and positioning is solid on the play, but he's unable to knock the ball away with his inside hand. This allows the receiver to get his hands on a ball that should have been broken up. pic.twitter.com/H0PYaJ9wAv— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 1, 2019
As discussed earlier, Wade has the length to play on the boundary. However, he’s not great at timing his jump to high point the ball — instead choosing to attack the player at the catch point. This works when he effectively squeezes the boundary as shown in prior clips, and it works in this clip to find the ball as the receiver is coming down to punch it out.
But against surer-handed competition? Maybe not so much.
Wade does almost everything right on this play: inside leverage, good mirror of the stem, good jab to drive the receiver to the boundary as he flips his hips and he turns to locate the ball in flight. He even does well to keep a hand in the receiver’s chest (with another extended) to leverage himself to make a play on the ball before the receiver does.
However, an ill-timed jump means that Wade misses the initial chance at the break-up, which allows the receiver to make a play on the ball. Wade does well to swipe with his other hand to break up the play, but a better receiver could make him pay for his timing here. If you look at some of the previous positive clips, at times, Wade will not even jump to try to high point the ball — even after locating it.
With his length and ball skills, Spagnuolo will certainly want to see more consistent play on the ball in the air — rather than just the receiver.
The bottom line
For a player that not many gave a chance to make the roster, D’Montre Wade has several appealing qualities that fit Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
His ball skills are certainly good enough, and he’s shown that in camp this past week as one of the few cornerbacks to come up with interceptions (he had two). His zone technique fits what Spagnuolo likes — a la Rashad Fenton — and his physical attributes are sufficient for what could be asked from a boundary cornerback.
I’m not calling for Wade to get a shake at a starting cornerback job. I think he’s still got plenty of growth as a player to do before he can be trusted against the upper level of competition. However, I think he’s a more than capable backup that could definitely make this roster if he continues producing the way he has in camp thus far.