COLUMBUS — A year ago, Shaun Wade decided to return to Ohio State.
He wanted to come back and redeem himself for his ejection in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Expected to be a Day One pick at the NFL Draft, the cornerback turned down the cash to lead the Buckeyes to a national championship.
Not everything went according to plan. Ohio State nearly won the CFP, but Wade struggled to adjust to the outside, lockdown cornerback position after playing the slot in 2019.
Now, he’s no longer a projected first rounder. After declaring for the NFL Draft in January, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has him as a second- or third-round pick.
“Wade just didn’t have the cover skills this year playing outside that he did when he was in the slot,” Kiper said last week. “I think he could end up being an inside safety type or a slot corner, where he felt more comfortable rather than being out on an island. He’s going to be an interesting guy.
“I think he would’ve been a first-round pick had he played up to the level you expected or certainly as he did in 2019 when he was playing in the slot.”
Entering last season, some thought Wade’s stock was just beginning to rise. A preseason All-American, he finished the year with 20 tackles and two interceptions, including a pick-six against Indiana. And even with murmurs that his draft stock was falling with every reception against him, he was still named a consensus All-American.
But with the draft nearly a month away, more and more stock is being put in his struggles this past season. Per Pro Football Focus, Wade allowed 16 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns in his two playoff games.
Kiper has three cornerbacks going in the first round — Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. Wade could’ve been one of them, but Kiper has him as the No. 6 cornerback in next month’s draft.
Ahead of him sits Kelvin Joseph of Kentucky and Elijah Molden from Washington. Wade will have a chance to help his stock at March 30’s Ohio State Pro Day.
“Shaun Wade is an enigma,” Kiper said on a Monday conference call. “He did not have a good year in coverage, playing outside. When he was a slot corner, he was excellent in 2019. I think you look at him as a guy who could be second, third round.”
Did Wade make the right decision to turn down the NFL a year ago?
He seems at peace with his path to the NFL Draft. Taking questions after Ohio State allowed 464 passing yards to Alabama in the national title game, Wade said he would consider returning for yet another season.
But the journey to Miami, to the NFL Draft, was worth the wait.
“Oh yeah, definitely — [returning] was worth it,” Wade said. “I see myself growing as a man and as a team, and all the young guys growing as men, all the things that we went through, the adversity. I’m happy I came back, and I’m just glad we got here. I’m upset we didn’t get the win, but I’m definitely happy I came back and accomplished some big things with this team. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of everybody.”