Denzel Ward is the latest emerging star to continue Ohio State football’s recent tradition of placing cornerbacks in the first round of the NFL draft.
The Cleveland Browns selected Ward with the No. 4 pick in the first round on Thursday night, making that five first-round cornerbacks in the last five drafts for Ohio State and former cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.
Ward began to emerge in 2015 but truly took off in 2016 when he rotated at cornerback alongside future first-round picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. After the 2016 season, Coombs insisted Ward was just as good as the NFL-bound players he was playing alongside, even though he wasn’t technically a starter.
“I know he didn’t walk out for the first snap of the game, but [Ward] played the same number of snaps as Marshon and Gareon,” Coombs said. “We had a true three-man rotation. There was never a series where he didn’t go in and somebody didn’t come out.
“He’s as good as the other two. I played three guys of equal talent and ability. I don’t run out a guy who’s not as good as the other guys. Who would do that? Have you met my boss?”
Ohio State first round cornerbacks, 2014-18
|2018||Denzel Ward||No. 4||Browns|
|2017||Marshon Lattimore||No. 11||New Orleans|
|2017||Gareon Conley||No. 24||Oakland|
|2016||Eli Apple||No. 10||New York Giants|
|2014||Bradley Roby||No. 31||Denver|
In 2017, Ward truly fulfilled his immense potential as a lockdown cornerback. He intercepted 2 passes and shut down opposing receivers, becoming a consensus All-American and first-team All-Big Ten recipient. His NFL draft stock rose so quickly that Ward ultimately decided to sit out the Cotton Bowl against USC to protect himself from the possibility of an injury.
“It was definitely a difficult decision,” he said at the NFL combine. “There were many conversations with the coaches [about] what I was going to do. At the end of the day, it was my overall decision to sit out the Cotton Bowl. It was really not to risk injury. I was very conflicted on it. I didn’t tell them the last day, the day of, but I was conflicted.”
Ward’s speed blew away NFL evaluators and played a big role in his rising draft stock. At the NFL combine, Ward ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds, a blazing time at a position where speed is rewarded.
“I would say my speed separates myself from other players,” Ward said. “Other than speed, my footwork at the line of scrimmage and my ability to be able to mirror receivers and stay in the hip pocket of receivers.”
Denzel Ward NFL draft evaluation (NFL.com)
“Ward has the experience and talent to handle duties on the outside, but his lack of play strength combined with his elite footwork might be the deciding factor for a move inside. Ward is outstanding as a mirror-and-match cornerback with great route feel who is able to maintain tight coverage around the field with good technique and pattern recognition. He should become an early starter at nickel cornerback with the talent to make an immediate impact for a defense that faces a pass-happy division foe twice per year.” – NFL.com