The Buckeyes got some huge news on Saturday afternoon, as cornerback Shaun Wade announced he will be returning to Ohio State for the 2020 season. Much like Damon Arnette prior to this past season, Wade feels he still has something to prove and will have a chance to improve his draft stock with another season in Columbus. As expected, the OSU staff and fans alike are fired up.
Ohio State is losing a ton of talent to graduation and the NFL this season, especially on defense. Guys like Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, Malik Harrison and Jordan Fuller, among others, are all moving on to the next level. However, the Buckeyes have to feel incredibly fortunate, as they will be returning a ton of quality talent that certainly had the opportunity to test the NFL Draft if they pleased. Including Wade, others like Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper, and most of the offensive line are returning to Columbus with hopes of avenging the Clemson loss.
As the only returning starter in the secondary, Wade will be the unquestioned leader of the pack in 2020. It is hard to overstate just how important the slot corner was to everything Ohio State did on defense this season, even if his stats don't jump off the page. The redshirt sophomore recorded 26 total tackles, with four for loss and two sacks, while adding seven PBUs, one interception and two forced fumbles.
Wade was one of the top man coverage DBs for the Buckeyes this season, and his ability to lock guys down in the slot is huge in the era of spread offenses. You saw a glimpse of just how critical his role was in the Fiesta Bowl. Prior to Wade’s ejection, Clemson had no points and averaged 4.3 yards per play. After, they scored 29 points on 8.3 yards per play. His elite athleticism and versatility will give him a chance to be one of the top corners in the nation in 2020, and will make life for whoever Ryan Day hires as the new secondary coach a heck of a lot easier.
Not having to replace all three starting corners is a big break, but there will still be some fresh faces patrolling the secondary next season. At this moment there are really no clear starters to fill the roles of Arnette and Okudah, as the offseason will provide some more certainty. It seems as though it will be a battle between three or four guys for the two spots. Sevyn Banks, Cameron Brown, and Amir Riep would be some of the most likely candidates, but there could be one wildcard in the mix.
The trio all being four-star recruits, Banks, Brown and Riep have each played in limited roles in their short time at Ohio State. It was Riep who filled in for Wade following his ejection in the Fiesta Bowl, and did a pretty respectable job under the circumstances. Banks was regarded highly by his teammates in preseason camp, and made his lone career interception this season against Northwestern. Brown played the least of the three this season, appearing in eight games and totaling 14 tackles.
One dark-horse candidate to keep an eye on this offseason is Tyreke Johnson. A five-star recruit in the 2018 class, Johnson fell behind in the pecking order after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee right before preseason camp. The 6-foot-1, 191-pound former safety is from the same high school as Wade, and has learned from the guys ahead of him that playing time isn’t always earned right away. With a healthy camp and ample opportunity in front of him, Johnson could be an under-the-radar player for a starting role.
The safety position provides a bit more clarity, despite the loss of the every-down captain in Fuller. Ohio State had a ton of success on defense this season using a one-high safety look, and they will no doubt return to a similar scheme next year. Unlike corner, where certain guys can step up and take control of the starting job, there appears to be a clear fill-in for Fuller in 2020: Josh Proctor.
Proctor actually got his first real taste of significant minutes against Clemson, where OSU experimented with more of a traditional two safety look against a high-powered passing attack. He did struggle a bit, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected being thrust into an expanded role against one of the nation’s best offenses. There have been high hopes for Proctor ever since this past offseason’s training camp. He has shown flashes of star potential this season, culminating in his big hit to end the Big Ten Championship Game. With a full offseason of practice as a full-time starter under his belt, Proctor is a big time breakout candidate next season.
Regardless of who lines up for Ohio State in the secondary, the return of Wade is huge news, and should provide a next level of comfort for Day and his eventual secondary coach hire. Eager to return to the field following his ejection, Wade could be the pivotal piece that helps lead the Buckeyes back to the College Football Playoff next season.