NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the fourth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
This statement should not come as a surprise: Ohio State continues to produce big-time NFL talent. The top three picks in the 2020 NFL Draft were players that originally signed with the Buckeyes, and there will be another wave of talent from OSU entering the league next spring. We've already covered Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields in this series and now we're turning our attention to one of the top defensive players in college football. Here's my First Look report on Ohio State redshirt junior cornerback Shaun Wade.
Height, weight: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 26 tackles (17 solo), four for loss (two sacks), one interception, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles.
Game tape watched: Cincinnati (Sept. 7, 2019), Penn State (Nov. 23, 2019), Wisconsin (Dec. 7, 2019).
What I liked: Wade has ideal size/length and he plays with tremendous awareness. He primarily aligns in the slot, but he will roll back to the deep middle in some of Ohio State's coverage schemes. He's very disciplined as a zone defender, showing the ability to quickly read pattern combinations and position himself to make plays on the ball.
In man coverage, Wade is patient and avoids false steps. He's a smooth, fluid mover and he can build speed to catch up down the field. He's also a very dynamic blitzer from the slot. He disguises well and displayed the ability to dip and bend around the offensive tackle in the Cincinnati game. He earned a sack and forced a fumble on that play. He's also a very reliable tackler. I love his overall toughness and demeanor.
Where he needs to improve: Wade flashes a physical jam in press coverage, but there are too many occasions in which he doesn't shoot his hands and allows free access to receivers off the line of scrimmage. He was beat inside in the Penn State and Wisconsin games I studied. He also needs to improve his hands from a ball-skills perspective. He left a couple interceptions on the field in the games I watched. He was in position, located the ball, but simply didn't finish with the catch.
Biggest takeaway: Wade has some areas where he can improve, but he likely would have been a first-round pick had he declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. He'll have an opportunity to prove he can hold up outside at cornerback this fall and that should only increase his value for the next level. He could emerge as the premier player at his position in the country. Ohio State knows how to develop defensive backs. He's next in line.
He reminds me of: I don't have a perfect comparison for Wade, but I see some similarities to Minkah Fitzpatrick when he was coming out of Alabama. Both guys can play all over the secondary. They possess outstanding instincts and toughness. Fitzpatrick had noticeably better ball skills, but I'm hopeful Wade will make some strides this fall to improve in that area.
Teams were split on where Fitzpatrick would best fit at the next level. Some thought he would be an elite nickel back, others liked him at free safety and a few believed he could hold up outside at cornerback. After moving around during his brief time with the Dolphins, he settled in at free safety for the Steelers after being traded to Pittsburgh early last season. I believe teams will have similar discussions about Wade. I'm hoping he will land with the right team, one that will find the perfect role for him.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.