COLUMBUS — Turns out Ohio State will have a completely new secondary after all.
Shaun Wade made the choice to stick around as the foundational piece for the Buckeyes once, and his decision single-handedly raised the ceiling for the defensive backs last January. But as the uncertainty about the season dragged out, Wade no longer felt like he could do it twice.
The star cornerback officially declared for the NFL Draft on Monday morning, a move that has been in the works for a couple weeks and appears unlikely to change no matter what the Big Ten ultimately decides to do this fall. And there can be no overstating how significant that loss will be for Ohio State now that it must replace every starter in the secondary — including another likely first-round pick.
“After much prayer and consideration, I have decided to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft,” Wade said in a statement on social media on Monday. “Given the circumstances and the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, I know in my heart that the best decision for my future is to begin preparing for the next chapter in my life.
“This decision does not come lightly, and I want to thank all who helped me get to where I am today.”
Certainly the redshirt junior never envisioned that he would have to go through that thought process twice without playing any games between his two announcements. But the ongoing pandemic obviously threw a wrench in his plans, and that will now force the Buckeyes to come up with a new one at cornerback when they get back on the field.
How will the departure of Shaun Wade impact Ohio State? Where will the Buckeyes turn now at cornerback? Can the Best in America unit weather the storm? Lettermen Row is breaking it all down.
Why did Shaun Wade turn pro now?
The timing does seem a bit odd now that the Big Ten is apparently on the brink of approving a plan that would put Ohio State and the rest of the conference back in action by mid-October. But the writing has been on the wall for Shaun Wade for a couple weeks, and multiple sources indicated that the star cornerback hadn’t been back on campus since mandatory workouts resumed. Even after all the passionate fighting from his dad Randy Wade on behalf of his son and his teammates, this move won’t come as a surprise to the coaching staff.
Much like Wyatt Davis, there seems to at least be the possibility of testing the NCAA rules regarding agents as long as Wade either didn’t take money or pays it back in order to restore his eligibility. But that would appear to be unlikely for Wade at this point given all the signals that his mind was made up even before the Big Ten presidents and chancellors met over the weekend.
How will Ohio State replace Shaun Wade?
There is always talent waiting in reserve in the Ohio State secondary, and it’s possible that both Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks could blossom into first-round draft picks at cornerback as well. But neither of those guys can match the experience Wade was bringing back to the Buckeyes, and there are almost always some growing pains for new starters at such a challenging, pressure-packed position on the outside.
Both Brown and Banks are high-upside performers, and having them jockey to fill the No. 2 spot opposite Wade gave returning defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs some enviable depth while allowing the younger guys to develop and compete without feeling the burden of being the guy. Now, though, they’ll have to take a big leap into prominent roles without having had the benefit of a full spring camp or any live practices since March.
The potential is there with both Brown and Banks. But putting them both on the inside will put more pressure on that third cornerback to work in the slot. Can Marcus Williamson or Tyreke Johnson finally tap into their potential working with Coombs? This September upheaval at cornerback is going to be a major test for the Buckeyes.
Buckeyes pipeline fully stocked moving forward
In the short term, the loss of Shaun Wade is going to sting. But the long-range strength of the unit remains unchanged, and Kerry Coombs is already picking up right where he left off as a recruiter — and having one more first-round draft pick coming off the Ohio State assembly line will only help in that regard.
The Buckeyes have a pair of four-star cornerbacks committed in Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock, and they’ll arrive as reinforcements behind freshmen Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos as the unit reloads moving forward. Ohio State was never going to have Wade beyond this year anyway, and while his absence will trickle down and force younger guys to speed up the development process, that might actually be a silver lining for Coombs after he navigates this tricky season.