Shaun Wade came to Ohio State as the No. 2 cornerback in the 2017 recruiting class. The No. 1 cornerback was teammate Jeff Okudah. Wade enrolled early and had some impressive moments in his first spring game, but it was eventually revealed that he had an abdominal tear which cost him his true freshman season.
In 2018, Wade played a number of different positions as the secondary was in a constant state of repair. He found his home in 2019 as the team’s slot corner. His impact was constantly felt when he was playing, but maybe even more so when he wasn’t. The ejection for targeting in the 2019 playoffs completely reset the Ohio State defense and life got a whole lot easier for Clemson.
In 2020, Wade moved to an outside corner spot. It wasn’t a perfect season (there was a pandemic after all), but he played well enough to be named a consensus First-Team All-American. Alongside Wade was Sevyn Banks [pictured below]. Banks, who will be a senior in 2021, returns and will lock down one of the two starting outside cornerback positions. One of the more important stories of the offseason and camps will be about finding at least one more cornerback who is good enough to start.
With rising senior Sevyn Banks on the opposite side, the Buckeyes have no fewer than nine other cornerbacks on scholarship who could earn a starting job. Three of them are true freshmen in Denzel Burke, Jakailin Johnson, and Jordan Hancock, and three are redshirt freshmen in Ryan Watts, Lejond Cavazos, and Cameron Martinez.
The staff would have loved for Johnson and Hancock to enroll early, but Burke is the only corner currently on campus out of the 2021 class. The other two will arrive in the summer and when they do, they’ll be the highest-ranked cornerback recruits on the Ohio State roster.
The only returning cornerback with any real experience is fifth-year senior Marcus Williamson, and his experience came in the slot and at safety. He may not even truly be in contention for this role. There is also fourth-year junior Tyreke Johnson, but Johnson only saw more than five snaps in a game in blowouts last year.
Cameron Brown [pictured below] is a rising senior who came in on passing downs as the nickel corner last season. He injured his Achilles tendon on Halloween at Penn State. That’s typically a nine-month recovery, which would have him ready in time for fall camp. Keep in mind, however, that returning from Achilles injuries does not automatically equate to returning to form in that first year back.
It is very unlikely that Cameron Brown will be ready for spring ball, and we already know that the Buckeyes will be without freshmen Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock until they enroll in the summer. That leaves five or six guys to compete for a starting spot that they’ll need to compete for in fall camp as well.
We don’t even know for sure where Cameron Martinez will be playing in the secondary, and the same can be said for Marcus Williamson. Heck, the same can be said for other guys as well, which makes this Ohio State secondary such a question mark.
There hasn’t been enough seen yet of any of the 2020 signees, and last year was an almost impossible year for a freshman to make his mark. Those guys now have a full year under their respective belts and they’re going to be much more prepared for spring ball than they were fall camp last year.
This could be where we hear about how impressive Ryan Watts or Lejond Cavazos [pictured below] have been now that they’ve had a year to understand the entire picture. Expect a bunch of players to rotate this spring trying to prove themselves. Tyreke Johnson is an upperclassman, but he’s going to have four guys younger than him trying to move past him in the spring.
If a guy like Jakailin Johnson had enrolled early, he may have been a starting candidate this year. He may still be, actually, because of his talent and the unproven nature of almost everyone else in the secondary.
Despite the injury, however, Cameron Brown is probably still the likeliest answer here. Even though he played in the slot last year, he spent plenty of time as an outside corner in 2019. The injury is certainly a question mark, especially for a guy who was at one time arguably the fastest player on the team.
The possibilities are intriguing for a guy like Ryan Watts, who is a legitimate 6-foot-2-plus. Lejond Cavazos is a ridiculous athlete, but could project several different places. Some of the better bets will shake out in the spring, but there may not be anybody who can overtake Cameron Brown. Or keep him from overtaking them once he returns.