Ohio State Will Lean On Promising But Unproven Cornerbacks in 2018

By Kevin Harrish on January 23, 2018 at 10:10 am
Jeffrey Okudah will need to step up next season.

Damon Arnette

That is the complete list of Ohio State cornerbacks who have been on the roster longer than one season.

Behind him is a JUCO transfer who's been in Columbus a little less than a year followed by six players with freshman or sophomore eligibility.

That's the reality the Buckeyes are facing this offseason. 

One year removed from what was arguably the best cornerback recruiting class of all time, featuring the nation's top two high school corners and top JUCO corner, Ohio State now needs production.

Of the seven cornerbacks behind Arnette, only two saw meaningful snaps during the 2017 season: Kendall Sheffield and Jeffrey Okudah.

Sheffield, the nation's No. 1 JUCO cornerback, transferred to Ohio State in search of immediately playing time. A former five-star Alabama signee, Sheffield was supposed to be game-ready from the start, and he certainly looked the part.

"Have you seen him? He looks like an action figure," Arnette said of Sheffield before the season. "He’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s a great corner, he’s just exactly what we need for that rotation."

Kendall Sheffield

Sheffield was one of the more physically impressive players on the field in 2017, but he did struggle in coverage at times, drawing pass interference flags and often getting caught out of position.

Still, Sheffield was the team's third cornerback all season and figures to be an integral part of the defense next season. Even though he's only been in Columbus for one season, he has three seasons of college football under his belt counting the time he spent at Alabama and Blinn College giving him more experience than anyone besides Arnette.

The only other cornerback who played meaningful snaps in 2017 was Okudah. The nation's No. 1 cornerback coming out of high school, Okudah proved his talent and was the team's fourth cornerback all season.

In addition to playing extensively on special teams where he made a few big plays, Okudah was called on for heavy minutes in Ohio State's Cotton Bowl matchup with USC after Denzel Ward elected to sit out and Sheffield suffered an early injury. The freshman racked up a career-high four tackles and was solid in coverage.

Behind them are a group of players who are promising and were highly rated coming out of high school, but 

Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep each had special teams roles in 2017 and saw the field in garbage time once the game had been decided. Williamson finished the season with six total tackles and Riep had nine.

Then there's Shaun Wade. The No. 2 cornerback coming out of high school, Wade enrolled early with hopes of earning significant playing time his first season. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in the spring which resurfaced during the season causing him to have surgery and miss the rest of the season.

Wade had already earned playing time before his injury, and it's reasonable to assume he is ahead of both Williamson and Riep in the cornerback pecking order, just behind Okudah.

The Buckeyes added two cornerbacks in the 2018 class – Sevyn Banks and Tyreke Johnson – both of whom enrolled early and are already on campus. Johnson is rated as the nation's top safety, but will play corner at Ohio State, while Banks is the nation's No. 25 cornerback coming out of high school.

The talent and the promise is there, now the young guns just need to turn it into production. The Buckeyes need unproven players to prove themselves from the top to the bottom of the depth chart.

Ohio State needs starters to emerge with hungry, talented players pushing for playing time behind them. In the past, the Buckeyes have gone with a three-player rotation at cornerback, but with the way teams like Clemson can rotate receivers, they would like to have more players available than that.

One way or another, there will be youth on the field in the Buckeye secondary this season, so they're going to need to be ready. There's a high standard in the Ohio State cornerbacks room, and it's now up to the newcomers to uphold it.

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