Shaun Wade is most well known for committing a targeting penalty in the College Football Playoff Semifinal in 2019. This penalty resulted in an ejection, which marked the turning point of both the game and Wade’s career.
At the time of the ejection, Wade’s Ohio State Buckeyes led the Clemson Tigers 16-0 and showed no signs of giving up the lead at any point. On a 3rd and 5, Ohio State sent Wade on a blitz, sacking QB Trevor Lawrence, ending the Clemson drive. However, the referees threw a late flag and ejected Wade for targeting. The call was much to the disdain of Buckeye fans, as upon review it appeared as if Lawrence ducked into the hit. Nevertheless, the penalty was assessed, leading to an eventual Clemson touchdown. Clemson would go on to win 29-23, clinching an appearance in the national championship game against Joe Burrow’s LSU Tigers.
Wade detailed the agony that he went through as he sat in the locker room after his ejection. He could do nothing to help his teammates as Clemson slowly chipped away at Ohio State’s lead. After the loss, Wade knew that he could not declare for the NFL draft, as he believed he had unfinished business in Columbus.
At the time, Wade was a highly touted prospect. He did not give up a single touchdown in pass coverage during the 2019 season. Some believed that he was a better prospect than his teammate Damon Arnette, who was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders 19th overall. Wade’s decision to return to Ohio State for the 2020 season seemed to guarantee that he would be the first cornerback taken in this year’s draft.
Wade’s quest for a national championship was derailed before the season began, however. The Big Ten Conference postponed its season on August 11th due to COVID-19 concerns, leading Wade to opt-out of the season to focus on preparing for the draft. As other conferences began their seasons on time, the Big Ten faced mounting pressure to overturn its decision, which it eventually did, leading Wade to opt back into the season.
Due to the departure of Ohio State’s top two cornerbacks, Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, Wade was moved from slot/nickel corner to the outside. Ohio State’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme frequently leaves its corners on islands on the perimeter, and Wade was frequently exposed in his new position. Wade allowed 39 completions on 61 targets (64%), 563 yards and seven touchdowns. Wade did, however, have two interceptions.
Wade has poor technique in covering receivers one-on-one on the outside. He frequently leaves too much of a cushion, allowing receivers to have easy receptions underneath. His ball skills and jumping ability are not NFL ready either, as he was beaten on 50/50 balls multiple times this season. In press coverage, Wade is not nearly aggressive enough in contacting the receiver at the line of scrimmage. He allows the receiver to get a free outside release and is forced to trail the receiver. While forcing the receiver to the outside is what a corner should do, playing in trail technique every time when in press coverage is not.
The strongest part of Wade’s game is his tackling ability. He is very good at shedding blockers and finding the ball carrier. He does not miss many tackles in open space. He can settle his hips and square himself to the ball carrier, regardless of speed or elusiveness, preventing extra yardage after the catch. His secure tackling ability is likely what will entice an NFL team to select him in the draft.
Wade is not suited to be the number one corner on an NFL team. He will get burned by receivers when in man coverage. However, Wade does potentially have value as a slot corner or safety at the next level. He is a skillful pass rusher and can blitz from multiple spots on the field. He likely can be used to cover tight ends and running backs, as their route running and pass catching abilities are not as finely tuned as those of wide receivers. Wade could play a role similar to that of Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams. Adams is abysmal in coverage, as he finished with a 53.1 coverage grade according to Pro Football Focus, which is 34 points lower than his previous two seasons. However, Adams set the record for most sacks by a defensive back in single season history (9.5). While Wade may not have the same success rushing the passer, he does have better coverage abilities than Adams. If Wade can add some muscle mass, he could absolutely have some success as an in-the-box safety like Adams.
After pre-season projections that Shaun Wade would be a top 10 pick, he is now expected to be a late second or third round pick. Despite his potential upside at safety, I believe Wade should be drafted no higher than the middle of the third round.