Every year during the preseason there’s a Cinderella story that fans can’t get enough of. For this year that’s Christian Wade, the international running back of mystery. Will he make the roster? Practice squad? Weird 11th practice squad spot with the crazy rules? Who knows, but when a player with six other guys ahead of him on the depth chart breaks 200 comments maybe it’s time to take a look.
The big plays
Two plays are the primary reason that Christian Wade has been creating such a stir. Let’s break them both down to see what’s up.
65-yard touchdown run
The GIF is intended to do the heavy lifting but first the disclaimer that none of it is intended to trash Christian Wade or the touchdown. I point out his lean because it’s pretty impressive. The footrace is nice to see him win too because Corey Moore (36) and Carroll Phillips (59) both put up a 4.6 forty time.
You know there’s a “but” though, right? Yeah, the GIF set that up nicely. This is prime preseason football at play. The entire defense of the Indianapolis Colts reacts to the right. As a result only Carroll Phillips has any shot at a play near the line and he over pursues. And yes, Wade’s cut back makes it a clean victory at the line.
The defense being compressed near the line right from the start and the wrong read by the entire defense leads to Wade having one man to beat for a big gain. David Sills V wipes out a corner who may have come into play. Corey Moore stumbles while also blocking Phillips’s path and the big gain is now a long touchdown. Kudos to Wade for taking advantage, but in the regular season this would be a spectacular defensive failure.
48-yard catch and run
For Wade fans this is the play to hang your hat on. There’s some luck involved when a trio of tacklers all attack poorly, but there’s some excellent traits being shown here by Wade—and even when he’s lucky he’s showing good traits. The lowering of the body and bursting forward during contact gives him the best chance to make something happen. Even if he were wrapped up there he’s got a good shot at a couple extra yards.
The rest of the plays
Would you be surprised to learn that Wade has appeared in about two dozen plays between the two games? I know I was taken aback a bit. The 20 or so other plays haven’t generated the same buzz, so let’s take some time to talk about these reps.
If I’m going to cite ball placement as an occasional problem for Josh Allen I’d lose all credibility if I didn’t call out Tyree Jackson on this pass. It’s far from perfect, but it should be catchable. Wade looks a bit stiff running the route and this is likely a contributing factor in the lack of adjustment. Note that this isn’t egregious and is rather more of a hiccup. When your sample size is this limited though, you gotta take what you can get.
This is a very similar play against the Carolina Panthers. The biggest factor in Wade’s defense is that the ball is tipped and it does seem to take some heat off the pass. Still, this is one you’d like to see him adjust to and catch. This is again a hiccup, but it’s noteworthy we see similar flaws both times he’s been targeted in the passing game.
I have Tyree Jackson giving Christian Wade on-field instructions pointed out mainly because it wasn’t an isolated event. A second or two chat pre-snap was fairly common and there was at least one instance where Wade had to be corrected on his responsibility. Specifically, where to line up and when to go in motion. With a quarterback juggling a lot mentally pre-snap this could become counterproductive.
More importantly, when the defense plays like a typical NFL defense Wade suddenly looks pretty mortal. He’s looking mortal against Josh Thornton, a 185-lb corner who has floated around practice squads for the last two seasons.
The first defender has an excellent shot to end this play well behind the line of scrimmage. An aggressive line to the quarterback is changed late and Wade only has to deal with fleeting hands at his feet, which can still be difficult and he removes himself nicely. But here comes Josh Thornton again who slips on the turf, recovers and manages to make a shoestring tackle.
The Bills haven’t been using their starting running backs much for pass protection this preseason and Christian Wade is no different in that regard. There were a couple plays in which Wade may have ended up blocking on a pass play but the defender(s) held off. As a result he’s completely untested at the moment, which is frightening in its own way.
Wade was asked to be a decoy a decent amount, including a few play-action fakes. On this exact play the defender reads it as a handoff and you see the resulting hit. Nothing else really stood out on these, which isn’t terrible by any means.
If you told me that Christian Wade had grown up playing another sport, like I dunno...rugby I guess, and was new to football I might actually believe you. The two highlights show a player with good agility, speed, and balance. These set Wade’s ceiling pretty high as a player. Especially for the running back position.
But on the other hand, every solid shot from a defender resulted in a tackle with little in the way of yards after contact. Unpolished route running and difficulty adjusting mid-route came up on both plays Wade was targeted. It’s a small sample size, but it’s all we have. Add to that the fact that Wade needs extra coaching while on the field and so far hasn’t been trusted to keep his quarterback safe.
Wade brings a lot of exciting potential to the Buffalo Bills. However, the evidence doesn’t suggest he’d be able to tap into it all that often if he were to be faced with regular-season defenses game-planning for their weekly opponent.