Next Man Up: How Buckeyes can replace Shaun Wade at cornerback

Spencer Holbrook5 months
Sevyn Banks by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State cornerback Sevyn Banks has a chance to be a featured cornerback. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State had an incredible season last year on its way to the national title game, where it beat Clemson in the semifinal and fell short against Alabama. Many of the key players from that team moved onto the NFL. Who could step in to make plays similar to what the former Buckeyes made last season? Lettermen Row is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Buckeyes can find a bona fide No. 1 cornerback to lead the revamped secondary.

COLUMBUS — Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade didn’t have the season he expected.

After bursting onto the scene as a slot cornerback in 2019, Wade returned to school with a plan — to become a first-round pick as an outside cornerback. That never happened. Wade struggled through the year while fighting an injury. And the Buckeyes secondary as a whole wasn’t up to standard.

Even with his rocky season last year, Wade was the leader of the Ohio State secondary. He was still selected in the NFL draft last week, and he’ll still be missed in the back half of the defense for coordinator Kerry Coombs.

The race to replace him is already underway. Although the Buckeyes spent the spring without their top two cornerbacks, Sevyn Banks and Cameron Brown, they were able to get better with plenty of young players earning time on the field.

Shaun Wade-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Shaun Wade was the primary cornerback for Ohio State last season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“It was a great experience for those kids this spring,” Coombs said. “A lot of young kids getting a lot of reps. You don’t want guys to get injured, but at the same time, it afforded the opportunity for us to coach some depth in the backend. It’s so much different from where we were a year ago, just in numbers and depth across the board in the back end.”

Ohio State is busy developing depth with its young cornerbacks. But the Buckeyes also must decide who will be the No. 1 cornerback on a roster loaded with talent. Lettermen Row is breaking down who has a chance to become the lead cornerback in a defense that relies on having one.

Ohio State options

Sevyn Banks: As last season wore on and Shaun Wade continued to struggle, Sevyn Banks slowly became the best cover cornerback on the Ohio State roster. Banks missed the latter half of spring practice due to what Lettermen Row sources indicated was a knee issue. As long as that problem is solved, Banks will be back on the field and ready to take a big step forward. He is the frontrunner to be a shut-down cornerback for the Buckeyes. With an impressive campaign this fall, he has a chance to become yet another first-round draft pick at cornerback from Ohio State.

Cameron Brown-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Cameron Brown expects to be ready for Ohio State training camp after his injury. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Cameron Brown: Ohio State thought it had two cornerbacks to help Shaun Wade out last season, but that changed when Cameron Brown tore his Achilles during the second game of the season. Brown is still rehabbing from that injury and missed time in spring practice, but he should be ready to go for fall camp. If he’s back at 100 percent after the injury, he has traits that translate to being a lockdown cornerback. Can he be back and better than ever in the lineup for the Buckeyes? Time will tell, but Brown will certainly be in the mix for the lead role.

Ryan Watts: Second-year cornerback Ryan Watts made a massive leap in his development between last fall and this spring. He got bigger, faster and stronger. He became better as a cornerback. The long, tall Texas native showed flashes last season but never was able to show it consistently due to the odd schedule and limited reps. Now he’s ready to take another step forward this fall and compete for a starting job in the secondary. Can Watts transition into the lead cornerback for the Buckeyes? Or will he wait one more year to take over that role?

Lejond Cavazos-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Lejond Cavazos has potential to be a star for the Ohio State Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Lejond Cavazos: Plenty of young Buckeyes players earned reps this spring. But Lejond Cavazos was an Ohio State cornerback who didn’t get more reps while Banks and Brown were out this spring. He was also nursing an injury, forcing him out of spurts of spring practice. Cavazos is certainly talented enough to develop into a key cornerback for the Buckeyes. If he can make up for lost time and show his skillset this fall, he could be a sleeper pick for shut-down cornerback.

Jordan Hancock, JK Johnson: True freshmen Jordan Hancock and JK Johnson are both thought of as potential impact players in the secondary. Both top-100 recruits, they could work their way into the lineup during the season. Neither of them enrolled early, so it seems like a long shot to crown either of them as the No. 1 cornerback for the Buckeyes this fall.

Sevyn Banks-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Sevyn Banks is gaining steam for the Ohio State Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The pick: Sevyn Banks

Ohio State needs a cornerback capable of taking half the field away. The Buckeyes have had that in the past. But Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore and all the other talented cornerbacks to come out of Ohio State aren’t coming back. Sevyn Banks has a good chance to add his name to the list of dynamic Ohio State cornerbacks produced in the last decade. His combination of size, speed, athleticism, coverage skills and swagger make him a prime candidate to dominate on the outside for Ohio State — and he could be next in line as a first-round corner for the Buckeyes if he has a good campaign this fall.

He not only has the most experience of any corner, but his ceiling is quite high. If he lives up to it, he’ll raise the ceiling of the entire Silver Bullets defense.