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Indianapolis — Michigan State Trae Waynes humbly talked Saturday about how much he's learned from a couple of his closest friends, Melvin Gordon and Darqueze Dennard.

In April, though, Waynes could learn that NFL teams value his skills even more than his supremely talented friends.

Most analysts agree the 6-foot, 186-pound Waynes is the top cornerback in the draft and a lock to be selected in the first round. In his most recent mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected Waynes to go 14th overall, three spots ahead of Gordon — a Wisconsin running back — and 10 spots ahead of where Dennard — a former Spartans cornerback — went in 2014.

In addition to Dennard and other cornerbacks who preceded him in East Lansing, Waynes gives much of the credit for his rise to his coaches at Michigan State — Mark Dantonio, former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and assistant head coach and defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett.

"They helped shape me into the player I am today," Waynes said at the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Like Dennard, Waynes was once a two-star recruit. He also primarily played safety in high school in Kenosha, Wisconsin and said he played about one year of cornerback before heading to Michigan State.

It took Waynes about a year and a half to learn the technique Spartans coaches wanted him to use. He redshirted and played primarily special teams in his first active year, but as a sophomore, Waynes started every game opposite Dennard.

"(Darqueze) was like an older brother to me," Waynes said. "In practice we would always push each other. We'd have little competitions — whoever didn't get the most interceptions owed the other person pushups — and that's something we did on the regular to try to get each other better."

With Dennard gone, Waynes moved from field cornerback to the more demanding boundary spot and showed continued improvement as a junior, which helped him decide to forgo his senior season.

"Just the type of year I had and I realized I was in a good position to leave and fulfill a childhood dream, and I had to take it," he said.

When he weighed his options, Waynes reached out to Dennard.

"We talked a couple times when he found out I was really thinking about leaving," Waynes said. "He talked to me about the whole process, and he made it pretty clear that he would fly to wherever I am to put me in check if I needed."

And as Waynes has gone through the combine, he's seen his old friend Gordon, his teammate at Bradford High in Kenosha. The two have made friendly wagers on some of the athletic testing drills, but Waynes said they just hope for the best for each other.

Waynes won't run the 40-yard dash until Monday, but a couple of his Spartans teammates said they expect him to post a fast time, which would help solidify his status as the top cornerback. The other players contending for that title are Washington's Marcus Peters, who has off-field concerns, and LSU's Jalen Collins.

"He's an animal," Michigan State wide receiver Keith Mumphery said of Waynes. "He deserves to be one of the top cornerbacks in the nation. He works hard, that's the No. 1 thing, he works hard and he's willing to go the extra mile."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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