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Sleepers of the Room: Three Ohio State cornerbacks to watch out for

With Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette moving on to the NFL, a number of Buckeye cornerbacks will be vying for playing time in 2020.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Ohio State at Indiana Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Want to make it to the NFL? If you are an Ohio State cornerback, chances are you will be suiting up at the next level after your time in Columbus is done. Since 2014, nine Ohio State cornerbacks have been taken in the NFL Draft, with seven of those selections coming in the first round. In April, Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette were the latest Buckeye cornerbacks to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Even with Okudah and Arnette having moved on to the NFL, the Ohio State cornerback pipeline doesn’t figure to dry up anytime soon. LGHL’s Gene Ross identified Shaun Wade and Sevyn Banks as the next two players who will step up as leaders of the cornerback unit. Wade surprised many Ohio State fans be returning for his junior season, while the growth of Banks has been seen over the last two years.

Wade and the rest of the Ohio State cornerbacks received a boost in January when it was announced that Kerry Coombs would be returning to Ohio State after spending the last two years as defensive backs coach of the Tennessee Titans. The production from Buckeye cornerbacks really took off when Coombs was defensive backs coach in his first stint as an Ohio State assistant, so expect to see stellar play from a unit that was already at the top of their game.

Now the big question is who is going to take the next big leap to set themselves up to be the leader of the group after Wade moves on to the NFL? The real wild card at cornerback for the Buckeyes is Cameron Brown. The St. Louis product played both wide receiver and cornerback in high school, but has started to settle in at cornerback for the Buckeyes.

After playing in five games as a true freshman in 2018 before a leg injury ended his season, Brown returned last year to appear in all 14 games. In 2019, Brown was on the field for 254 snaps, which was the most among non-starting Ohio State defensive backs.

What makes Brown such an attractive prospect is his speed. The junior has the capability to run a 4.4 40-yard dash, and he believes that is even faster than that. Early in his Ohio State career, Brown was behind many of his teammates at cornerback since he came to Columbus as primarily a wide receiver, but his coverage skills are closing in on his athleticism, which increases the likelihood that we see a breakout season from Brown in 2020.

When looking for the next Shaun Wade, why not look to the player who came out of the same high school program as Wade? Tyreke Johnson was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, and Rivals ranked Johnson as the top safety in the nation. Even though Johnson was such a highly-rated safety, he expressed his desire to play cornerback in Columbus not long after officially signing to play at Ohio State.

So far Johnson hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but there is still time to right the ship. After redshirting in 2018, Johnson was slowed in 2019 by a torn meniscus before preseason camp. Because of the injury, Johnson appeared in just eight games as a redshirt freshman, totaling 57 defensive snaps.

With the talent Ohio State has a cornerback, they don’t need Johnson to be spectacular this year, but they do need him to start showing signs of why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. Johnson has been in the program long enough now that he knows what is expected of him, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if we see a big leap from the Jacksonville native now that Kerry Coombs is back coaching the corners.

While there is still time for Brown and Johnson to leave their mark, time is running out for Marcus Williamson. So far Williamson has seen most of his time on the field for Ohio State come as a special teams player, but with two starters now gone from last year’s team, it’s Williamson’s best shot to get any significant playing time before he exhausts his eligibility with the Buckeyes.

Williamson is a local product, coming to Ohio State from nearby Westerville. The cornerback was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and he saw plenty of action early, appearing in 10 games as a true freshman in 2017. After a promising start to his Ohio State career, Williamson’s sophomore season turned into a mess after his season ended because of injury after playing in four games, which meant he wasn’t able to redshirt.

Last year was all about getting Williamson some time back on the field. The mission was successful, as he appeared in all 14 games for the Buckeyes. Now with his senior season getting ready to begin, Williamson knows he has to leave it all on the field for Ohio State. While it’s hard to see Williamson getting a significant amount of time with some of the talent ahead of him, he could be a key reserve for Ohio State.

What Williamson will be looked at for is for some senior leadership to set the tone for the younger Buckeyes and show them how they will be expected to represent on the field, as well as off. With Ohio State’s depth at cornerback, it seems likely that most of Williamson’s worth to this team will come via special teams, but don’t sleep on him to make an impact for the defense at times this year.