Former Ohio State CB Shaun Wade looks beyond up-and-down 2020, eager for NFL opportunity

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Celebrating Ohio State's victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19 was one of the high points in an up-and-down season for cornerback Shawn Wade (24) in 2020.

Shaun Wade began last season at Ohio State as a potential first-round pick, poised to be next in the school’s lineage of cornerbacks taken near the top of the NFL draft.

Then the script deviated.

Between hampering injuries and an uneven transition from slot cornerback to outside cornerback, Wade watched his draft stock take a hit.

When this year’s draft begins on Thursday, he is expected to fall outside the first 32 picks and tumble toward the middle rounds.

But Wade isn’t hung up on last fall and the effect an inconsistent stretch had on his status as a prospect.

A look back:Cornerback Shaun Wade runs 4.43 in 40-yard dash at second Ohio State football pro day

“I can’t live in the past,” Wade said. “Things didn't go my way, but it’s a part of life. Things don’t go a lot of people's way. You just have to keep on performing and keep on progressing. That’s what I'm doing.”

Wade took one of the biggest steps toward boosting his stock during Ohio State’s second pro day on April 14 when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds.

It was the fastest time recorded by any of the Buckeyes’ prospects in this class and occurred despite the fact his training time in previous weeks had been reduced because of a turf toe injury.

Wade showcased his speed at Ohio State’s second pro day on April 14.

Resting and going through rehabilitation in January and February, Wade spent only a month preparing for the 40, unlike others who began in the winter months.

He had injured a toe during the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern and believes it impacted his performance late last season.

“It bugged me a lot,” he said. “You plant off that foot. You use everything with your toe. It's very, very important. But I still felt I could play through it because my team needed me.”

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In interviews with NFL teams, Wade has sought to provide coaches and front office executives with a deeper explanation for some of his ups and downs from 2020.

Injuries contributed, as he had also hurt his groin and knee before games began in October. Even earlier in the offseason, he spent time recovering following abdominal surgery.

It made the timing of his position switch less than ideal.

But as the Buckeyes saw both of their outside corners in Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah leave, becoming first-round picks in last year’s draft, Wade embraced the opportunity to help fill holes in the secondary.

Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs reasoned then as well that Wade offered the right size to move outside, where his 6-foot-1 frame could prove to be valuable in their preferred press-man pass coverage.

Wade still made an impact. A pick-six cushioned a lead in a win over Indiana, a triumph that allowed Ohio State to win the Big Ten East and reach the conference championship game. The following week at Michigan State, he intercepted his second pass. He was named a consensus All-American.

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But he also was exploited in coverage in other instances that drew as much concern. According to data from Pro Football Focus, Wade gave up seven touchdowns and 39 completions on 61 targets, a 63.9% completion rate, over eight games.

Lining up as a slot corner the previous fall, Wade appeared more comfortable. In nearly twice as many games, he surrendered only one touchdown, and on 48 targets allowed 27 completions for a lower 56.7% completion rate.

Teams vary in the ways they see Wade potentially lining up in their secondary.

“Every team is different,” he said.

Plays like his interception return for a touchdown against Indiana last season helped Shaun Wade (24) gain All-America honors. He also gave up seven touchdowns in eight games according to data from Pro Football Focus.

He has discussed multiple cornerback spots with them, as well as safety, a position he played at times as a redshirt freshman in 2018.

If he has a preference, Wade didn’t express it. He wants to reach the field and sees his experience at multiple spots as a way to boost his odds for playing time.

“I'd rather be versatile,” he said. “It keeps me on the field, and it shows that I could just play everything. I'd rather be versatile than just play one position.”

Along with versatility, Wade hopes his winning track record will be further appealing. In all four of his high school varsity seasons at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, he was on state championship-winning teams, and he twice helped Ohio State reach the College Football Playoff.

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Rather than opt out last fall, he remained with the Buckeyes and was voted a team captain.

Now, after a winding path to the draft, Wade is eager to hear his name called, move to a city and find comfort in his role in the secondary.

"I can't wait to see what the team needs me to do," Wade said, "so we can progress and get to another goal, which is a Super Bowl, AFC, NFC championship. I can't wait."

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman