Denzel Ward will skip his senior season at Ohio State to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, the school announced following Ward’s decision to sit out the Cotton Bowl on Friday.
“Ward wrestled with the decision to play (or not) throughout the bowl prep practices, leaving open his decision until game day,” the team said in a release. “So he practiced, but he also helped the younger players in the program who were getting additional reps at cornerback this past month. The coaching staff was aware that Denzel’s decision to play or not play would not be made final until game day. He elected today to sit out.”
Ward flourished in 2017 with the Buckeyes under cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. He led an Ohio State secondary that technically returned only one starter from 2016 in safety Damon Webb, but Ward was in prime position to do so because he’d played starter-level snaps the year before.
Denzel Ward captained an Ohio State secondary that performed well for almost all of 2017
With Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker all going in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Ohio State had “some” rebuilding to do in the secondary. But with Ward and Webb, the Buckeyes were still in a good place.
“You guys keep saying he wasn’t a starter last year,” Coombs said this summer. “And I know he didn’t walk out on the field for the first snap of the game, but he played the same number of snaps as Marshon and Gareon. And so I would prefer it if you guys would refer to him as the third starter at corner — because that’s what he was.”
Ohio State gave up what ended up as a season-high 420 yards through the air in Week 1 against Indiana, but that came on a shocking 65 pass attempts. Week 2 against Oklahoma was the Ohio State secondary’s worst performance, and it came against Heisman winner Baker Mayfield.
Ohio State allowed only one quarterback to complete at least 60 percent of his passes after that game, and it was Iowa QB Nate Stanley in the Buckeyes’ shocking 55-24 loss Nov. 4. Ward did his part for a secondary that ranked 18th in S&P+, Bill Connelly’s analytics algorithm that grades play based on efficiency and explosiveness.
Ward had 2 interceptions and 15 passes defensed this season. Teams still have been targeting him this season, he says more than Conley and Lattimore last year.
“I think it is strange,” Ward said. “Last year I think Gareon [Conley] and Marshon [Lattimore] got more targets than I did. I thought last year they would target me more. This year I’ve been getting a lot of targets, but I like when teams throw at me. It gives me an opportunity to make plays and help our team out.”