Christian Wade has been something of an anomaly in the NFL world. Since entering the league in 2019, he has excelled in his limited pre-season action. However, given his status as an International Pathway Program (IPP) player, Wade sat on the practice squad with a roster spot exemption; ineligible to actually play. Bills fans have been clamouring for Wade Time for a while, but what do we really know about him?
Wade is famed for his skills as a Winger, but he didn’t always have an interest in rugby. He attended the Royal Grammar School and wanted to get involved in athletics. Rugby was the only true option. Wade excelled in the sport relatively quickly, playing for England’s international team as part of the Under-20 team. That team took home fourth place in the IRB Rugby World Cup in 2010.
Naturally, he moved on to the professional level; debuting with the London Wasps in 2011. His natural speed and agility made him lethal on the wing (down the sidelines). In fact, he exploded in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. He earned an international squad call-up for England, and won several awards including the Players’ Player of the Year and the Young Player of the Year. Christian was an exceptional player for the Wasps up until 2018, when he decided to pursue his NFL aspirations.
The International Pathway Program
How does a player who didn’t come up through the US/Canadian college system become an NFL athlete? Simple: They enter the IPP. The purpose of the IPP is to widen the NFL talent pool and expand international interest in (American) football. In 2019, the program assigned Christian Wade to the Bills. The NFL gave the team a roster exemption to allow Wade up to two years to develop as a Running Back.
How His Talents Translate To The NFL
It may be difficult to understand, but rugby stats don’t quite translate to the NFL. The measurables just aren’t recorded the same way they are in America. What we do know is this: Wade brings a speed and lethal agility to the position that’s rare for an RB of his age. Additionally, his vision, often displayed by his ability to create running lanes on the rugby pitch, is excellent. He was a nightmare for the Wasps in open space and manipulated the sideline like a genius when stuck in traffic. If he’d played in college and gone through the draft as a normal prospect, he quite possibly would’ve been drafted somewhat highly.
How Has He Grown?
We all wanted Christian Wade on the roster in 2019. However, he had some significant flaws in his game. He was criticized for running away from his blocks and seeming not to “trust his teammates”. Those are fair statements. In rugby, Wade never expected to have blockers and played like it was 1-on-11 all the time. It worked out in his favour on breakaways, but more often than not it would hinder him in a real game situation.
In order to succeed, an offense needs to act as one. This year, in camp, he appears to operate much more like a RB, which means his athleticism is no longer a crutch, but an asset. Finding the holes carved out by his linemen means that he can find the open room needed to do what he does best. And, as one of only two speedy RBs on the roster, he gives himself an opportunity to make the 53-man roster for the first time in his career. He’s also learned about some run and pass blocking assignments; areas where he had no prior experience. Furthermore, he likely learned the basics of reading a defense in practice. Being immersed in the playbook for two straight seasons means he won’t have any studying to do. The only thing he has left to learn is how to run routes.
Making The Team
Unfortunately, he’s still the least experienced RB on the team, which doesn’t bode well given he’s 30. He brings speed, but so does Matt Breida, who has significantly more playing experience. He won’t knock off Devin Singletary or Zack Moss, who both have carved-out roles for themselves in the backfield. Meanwhile, Taiwan Jones is an experienced special teams ace. On a Bills team that typically carries four RBs, with one or two of them used primarily on special teams, he’d need to provide something extra that no other player in the room can do. That thing? Returning kicks.
Hear me out. We all know that Isaiah McKenzie is an attractive choice, but he also holds a potentially significant role in the offense, and putting his body on the line to return kicks may be too risky for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Christian Wade could finally bring his open-field talent to the forefront as a returner, but he’ll need a shot first. Let’s hope we can see some gold from his come preseason.
UPDATE: Per Tom Pelissero, IPP players may now be included on the practice squad under their roster exemption without being excluded from playing in the regular season. In order to play, the Bills would have to waive Wade’s roster exemption and retain him on the practice squad for three weeks. This means that he could still play this season even if he fails to make the main roster; a situation that wasn’t possible before.