The Cleveland Browns have one excellent young cornerback in Denzel Ward, but the rest of the position group is full of unknowns. Looking ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft, CB could be high on the team’s list of needs. Fortunately, there are some great options, with Ohio State’s Shaun Wade near the top of the draft class. Here’s an early look at a player primed for a big junior year.

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2021 NFL Draft look-ahead: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

Production

The Buckeyes are the indisputable “DB U”. Over the past seven years, Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward, Jeff Okudah, and Damon Arnette have all been first-round picks, and Shaun Wade is next in line.

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Wade was the second-best defensive back on the team last season, which is saying something, as Okudah and Arnette were taken third and 19th overall, respectively. With those two having moved on to the NFL, Wade is now the leader of the Ohio State secondary.

Entering his redshirt junior season, Wade has played in 24 games over the past two seasons. He’s totaled 57 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, four interceptions, seven passed defended, and three forced fumbles. Wade has been primarily utilized as a nickelback, but is expected to transition outside full-time in 2020.

The positives in Shaun Wade’s game

Size and physicality

Listed at 6’1″ 194 pounds, Wade is big enough to contend with X receivers on the outside. His long arms give him the potential to be a very effective press-man corner, and he has no issue taking on contact, whether it’s jamming a receiver at the line or fighting through a block to make a tackle.

Athleticism and fluidity

Wade appears to have no issues as far as physical ability. We’ll obviously have to wait until the NFL Combine for official measurements and athletic testing, but he certainly passes the eye test. Agility and long speed both look good. Is he a 4.3 guy like Lattimore and Ward? Probably not, but he doesn’t have to be either.

Instincts and feel

Lattimore, Ward, and to a degree Okudah were known for being primarily press man corners coming out of Ohio State. Wade is different. He certainly can play man, and he’ll likely get a chance to do that much more in 2020, but his feel for zone coverage is special. Some players just seem like they can see a play before it happens, and Wade is one of them. He effortlessly floats between zones and passes off and exchanges assignments with his teammates. Feel for the game is something that is incredibly hard to teach, and Wade has it.

Run defense and tackling

Many cornerbacks who have come out in recent years have been poor tacklers. Wade will not be part of that group. He does have some misses where he goes too high, but for the most part, he wraps up properly and fights through blocks to get to the ball-carrier.

Blitzing

Many fans will recall Wade’s sack on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in last season’s Fiesta Bowl that got him ejected for targeting. Blitzing is a big part of Wade’s game, and he is very good at it.

Versatility

While Wade was primarily deployed in the slot, he has played outside corner as well, in addition to deep safety. There were even times when he’d rotate from the slot to the angel position as the ball was being snapped, and had no trouble with any of his assignments. Being able to do multiple things well will boost his value to NFL teams.

What Wade can work on in 2020

Nickel

This could very well be a non-issue a few weeks into the season. Wade’s stock right now is hampered slightly by the fact that he is primarily a nickel cornerback. That position is, by all means, a starter in the NFL nowadays, but teams still value outside DBs higher, and slots just aren’t typically high first-round selections.

Less than ideal production

Even though he was basically a starter, Wade doesn’t have ideal ball production. He got his hands on only eight passes in 2019, compared to 12 for Okudah who was barely targeted. This isn’t a deal-breaker for Wade, but it would be nice to see him get some more pass breakups, although that may be difficult if teams aren’t throwing at him.

Technique at the line of scrimmage

Wade was quick feet and long arms, which means he could be really good in press man. He’s not bad in that alignment, but there is room for improvement, particularly with how he leverages his physical tools. Legendary DB coach Kerry Coombs is back with the Buckeyes after spending the last two years with the Tennesee Titans, so perhaps he’ll be able to refine Wade’s Technique.

Ball skills

Eight pass breakups to just one interception is not a great ratio, and there were plays last season where Wade should have come up with a pick but didn’t. Capitalizing on opportunities is what separates good DBs from great ones.

2021 Draft stock

Had Wade declared for the 2020 Draft, he would have gone in the middle of the second round at worst, and could very well have been a first-rounder. With a good season in 2020, he should end up as an early-to-mid-first round guy, although he’ll have some stiff competition with this cornerback class.

Fit with Browns

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods is expected to use more press man coverage than former DC Steve Wilks did, in order to play to the strengths of starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. He’s stated that the Browns will use the nickel package as their base defense, and he’d like to eventually have the personnel needed to run dime as the team’s base. This would mean just one linebacker on the field with six defensive backs. Woods also likes to have safeties that can cover like cornerbacks, which brings us back to Wade’s versatility.

Related | Shaun Wade vs. Patrick Surtain Jr. for CB1 in 2021 NFL Draft

If he shows the same ability on the outside as he did in the slot, fantastic. Wade could still be an option if he’s available when the Browns are picking, whether or not Williams takes a step forward in year two. But Wade could fit in as the team’s third safety, rotating down to the slot as needed and roaming around the field. Cleveland’s current nickelback is veteran Kevin Johnson, who was effective from the slot in 2019, but it was in a limited sample size, and he’s struggled with injuries and inconsistency throughout his career.

Wade is a versatile defensive back who can fill a variety of roles for his NFL team. No matter what happens with Cleveland’s secondary in 2020, the Browns will have a spot for him on their defense.