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What losing Shaun Wade means for Buckeyes, revamped secondary

Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade is heading to the NFL. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

What losing Shaun Wade means for Buckeyes, revamped secondary

COLUMBUS — Shaun Wade returned to Ohio State twice, but he won’t do it a third time.

The dynamic defensive back has been weighing his professional future for well more than a year, and he’s finally completely ready to move on from the Buckeyes and test his skills at the next level after putting it off a couple times.

Wade didn’t accomplish everything he wanted after electing to return for one more year with the Buckeyes, first after the Fiesta Bowl loss and then after initially opting out of the pandemic-delayed season in September. He is an Ohio State graduate, he did become a captain, there were All-American honors earned and he helped the program get redemption against Clemson in the College Football Playoff.

But Wade was inconsistent as he tried to prove to NFL scouts he could be an elite outside cornerback, and he also came up one win short of the national championship he desperately wanted. And while those two factors appeared to tempt him into extending his career with the Buckeyes once again, he confirmed he would be declaring for the NFL Draft on Friday morning on social media.

“Despite all the challenges we’ve faced over the past year, I am thankful and blessed that I had the opportunity to compete in the 2020 season with my teammates,” Wade posted on Twitter. “For that, I will be forever thankful. This 2020 season has been extremely vigilant and made me realize the work I need to put forth in my upcoming endeavors.

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Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade was a valuable leader for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“After much prayer and careful consideration, I have decided to forego any remaining eligibility that I have and declare for the 2021 NFL draft.”

As Wade prepares for that next step in his journey, the Buckeyes will now have to figure out the best way to replace their most experienced cornerback after one of the worst statistical seasons the secondary has had in school history. Lettermen Row is breaking down what his decision means for Ohio State heading into the offseason.

What Shaun Wade meant to Ohio State

The Buckeyes were clearly in a transitional phase in the secondary last year. The program lost a pair of first-round cornerbacks, the captain and security blanket at safety was making plays in the NFL and Ohio State also had a new defensive coordinator as Kerry Coombs returned to take over from Jeff Hafley. Add in the complications of the pandemic, roster attrition in the offseason and the injury to Cameron Brown and that was obviously a ton of adversity to overcome.

So, just imagine how much more challenging it would have been without Shaun Wade around last season. Wade wasn’t perfect as he moved to the perimeter, and by his own admission he was pressing too hard to make plays at times. But Wade still delivered some key ones, most notably his pick-six against Indiana that wound be up being critical in that win on the way to another Big Ten championship. Wade is an NFL-caliber talent and should be able to stick in the league for a long time thanks to his versatility, something he wasn’t really able to use last season quite like he did during his breakout campaign at Ohio State two years ago.

Options for Buckeyes to take over at cornerback

The loss of spring practices, the changes to training camp and the shortened schedule all hurt the Buckeyes last season — but it was also a setback in building for the future. Freshmen cornerbacks Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos didn’t get the reps, development or experience they would in a normal year, and that will surely add some urgency for Coombs over the coming months as he tries to get them ready for a potential spot in the rotation.

Assuming Sevyn Banks doesn’t make an unexpected leap to the NFL as well, he’ll be in position to become the top lockdown option in the secondary. Banks was really coming on late in the season, flashing his speed and physicality while hinting at his potential for stardom. He’ll likely be paired with Cameron Brown as he recovers and returns from an Achilles injury suffered in October. Brown’s loss might not have seemed like a huge deal at the time, but he was the most experienced member of the secondary outside of Wade and was a key part of the plans to continue the three-man rotation Coombs has long favored at cornerback. It’s unclear when exactly Brown might be fully cleared for contact again, but based on similar injuries the Buckeyes have dealt with, it should be in time for summer workouts.

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Ohio State cornerback Cameron Brown is recovering from an Achilles injury. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Evaluating impact of losing Shaun Wade

Perhaps no program has recruited at a higher level in the secondary than Ohio State over the last decade, and the pipeline of talent is still flowing. So, even though last year was nowhere near the Best in America standard, there is no reason the Buckeyes shouldn’t be able to bounce back in a major way — even without Wade around next season. Certainly Coombs is going to have to do some serious evaluations of what went wrong, and Ohio State is going to have to figure out exactly what it wants to be defensively after taking such a significant step back against the pass last year.

But Banks and a healthy Brown are a fine place to begin the reload, and the return of Marcus Williamson for another season might add some of the versatility that Wade once provided in the backend. Throw in the rise of Watts or Cavazos and Ohio State has the personnel to return to dominance.

Bottom line: Losing Shaun Wade certainly isn’t a surprise, but Ohio State should be able to absorb the loss thanks to the talent on hand.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.