From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#24 Shaun Wade/CB Ohio State University- 6’1” 195
- Ideal frame for an NFL cornerback
- Possesses elite hit power at the position, plays at his best coming downhill
- Displayed great instincts and timing as a blitzer from the slot position, a necessary trait in Pittsburgh’s scheme
- Possesses solid tackling fundamentals when able to square players up properly
- Active supporter against the run, shows desire and physicality
- Good ball skills at the catch point when in phase
- Shows above average route anticipation against out breaking routes
- Has shown extensive work from both press and off coverage alignments, with solid press bail work from his outside tape
- Has experience working in press coverage from the slot, a relatively uncommon trait for a college player, and one that will help him transition to the next level
- Possesses great instincts in shallow zone coverage assignments, at his best when he is able to read quarterbacks and react downhill
- Contributed on special teams throughout his college career, could contribute on kickoff and punt units immediately at the next level
- Struggled mightily at times during his transition to the boundary in 2020, causing many analysts to suggest a transition to safety
- Does not possess elite top end speed, allowing receivers to separate downfield when beaten off the line
- Lacks patience in off coverage, appears to lack trust in his ability to carry receivers vertically
- Rarely attacks the ball at its apex on downfield targets, allowing receivers to create vertical separation for contested catches
- Shows choppy footwork at times in press coverage, often allowing receivers to cross his face when playing with inside leverage
- Lacks situational awareness at times, particularly in the red zone, where he could ideally show more patience and dare receivers to challenge him vertically
- Lacks ideal hip mobility, must improve his change of direction skills to compete with nuanced route runners at the NFL level
- Was targeted with repeated success throughout the 2021 college football playoff in matchups against Clemson’s Cornell Powell and Alabama’s Devonta Smith
- 92 tackles 5 TFL 2 sacks 3 FF 6 INTs 1 TD 18 PD
- 2020(8 games): 34 tackles 1 TFL 2 INTs 4 PD 1 TD
- Played in the slot in during the previous two seasons before shifting to the boundary spot in 2020
- Former five star prospect out of Trinity Christian Academy
- Named Third team All-Big Ten in 2019
- Three year starter for Ohio State after redshirting as a true freshman
Entering the 2021 NFL draft process, there are few more polarizing players at the cornerback position that Ohio State’s Shaun Wade, who grew to stardom as the nation’s premier slot talent, before struggling in his transition to the boundary in the COVID shortened 2020 season. Although many assumed Wade’s length and well built frame would allow him to transition seamlessly to the boundary, he struggled at times to contend with traditional X receivers in isolated matchups, suggesting that a move back to the slot could be his best role in his transition to the next level. That being said, despite numerous areas of concern that arose on his 2020 film, Shaun Wade possesses a unique skillset, combining desired size, physicality, and playmaking instincts to suggest that he could be an impact player out of the slot in the right scheme.
In studying Wade’s film, the trait which jumps off the tape is his uncommon physicality, making him particularly effective both against the run and as a blitzer, where he routinely displays impeccable timing. Working out of the slot against Cincinnati in 2019, Wade, aligned pressed over the slot receiver, times the snap perfectly, screaming off the edge and dipping under the left tackle to come free, chopping down aggressively on the quarterback’s throwing arm to jar the ball loose. In the next clip from the same season against Michigan State, Wade, once again aligned over the slot receiver, wastes no time getting downhill after the snap, flying through the vacated B-gap untouched to punish the quarterback before he had any time to go through his progressions.
While his work as a blitzer is sure to put him on Pittsburgh’s radar, Wade provided equally impressive reps working out of shallow underneath zone assignments, where he is able to play downhill and punish receivers after the catch. On the ensuing Cincinnati possession, Wade, operating at linebacker depth, stays patient at the snap before flying out of his break, closing ground rapidly, and tattooing the back behind the line of scrimmage for a punishing pass breakup that was nearly corralled by Chase Young.
Although his 2020 tape certainly exposed warts in his game as a boundary cornerback, Wade’s playmaking instincts and above average route recognition skills remained on display. Late in the third quarter of a marquee early season matchup against 11th ranked Indiana Hoosiers, Wade, aligned as the field corner to a bunch set, displayed great patience in his backpedal, executing his read steps, breaking efficiently, and maintaining great eye discipline to secure a game changing pick six, the first of his Buckeye career.
After serving as Ohio State’s primary slot defender in his first two seasons alongside a talented cornerback room featuring a pair of 2020 first round draft picks in Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette, Wade was elevated to the top cornerback role for the team this past season, leading to some tougher matchups. In a marquee matchup against Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Wade struggled to contain the talented receiver in press coverage, including the first rep below, where he shows impatient footwork off the line, ceding ground off the snap and opening his hips toward the sideline, allowing the receiver to slip his right hand jam and cross his face, creating separation for an easy pitch and catch on the slant. Later in the game, Wade did a much better job off the line, matching the receivers release with patient feet before squeezing him to the sideline with an impressive two handed jam. Despite blanketing the receiver downfield and turning to locate the football, Wade fails to attack the ball at its apex, allowing Dotson to create vertical separation for a wildly impressive one handed grab, and walk in for the touchdown.
In the college football playoff, faced with a similar task of matching Clemson’s talented receiver Cornell Powell, Wade struggled to contain the receiver out of both off and press coverage alignments, although most of the receivers’ damage came with the game well out of reach. With Clemson threatening deep in the red zone, in a goal to go situation, Wade curiously aligned nine yards off of the receiver, allowing room for an easy pitch and catch on the hitch, which Powell would stretch across the goal line for an easy score. Later in the game, operating in press coverage, Wade bites hard on Powell’s diamond release, opening his hips and resorting to a speed turn to recover, only to have the receiver cross his face again on a nasty rep which exposed the corners lacking hip mobility and change of direction skills. While it is encouraging that Wade has the confidence to press top receivers, he needs to stay far more patient off the line in order to challenge receivers at the next level, making it nearly impossible to see him playing on the boundary at any point during his rookie campaign.
Overall, Wade’s transition to the NFL level will be largely reliant on the scheme he enters, as his physicality and natural instincts could allow him to flourish as a blitzer, run defender, and shallow zone coverage player. Nonetheless, his 2020 film made it abundantly clear that he is at least a year of development away from ever playing as a boundary cornerback at the next level, although certain traits, such as lacking hip mobility and average long speed, make the transition seem an optimistic pipe dream at best.
With Pittsburgh likely looking to replace some of the contributions of Mike Hilton, Wade could instantly provide similar value as a blitzer and run defender from the Nickel position. That being said, Wade has similarities to Hilton as a coverage player as well in that both players possess natural playmaking instincts to create splash, yet will struggle in man coverage assignments against top tier receivers. While Wade’s testing will certainly be a determining factor in his draft stock, the lack of optimism that he can play as a boundary cornerback at the NFL level will likely push him far away from the lofty first round speculation that he was receiving prior to the 2020 season.
If Pittsburgh were to select Shaun Wade in the mid rounds of the 2021 NFL draft, he could likely contribute immediately on multiple special teams units, and could potentially serve as an early down player in Nickel, being subbed off in favor of Cam Sutton on passing downs, similar to the dynamic we saw with Mike Hilton over the past two seasons. Nonetheless, I tend to believe that Wade’s best fit lies with a team that operates in a zone coverage heavy, three safety scheme, where he would rarely be asked to match NFL caliber receivers in man coverage, making his fit in Pittsburgh less than ideal.
Projection: Late Day Two to Early Day Three
Games Watched: vs Maryland(2019), at Michigan State(2019), vs Cincinatti(2019), vs Clemson(2020), at Penn State(2020), vs Alabama(2020), at Indiana(2020)