INDIANAPOLIS — Former Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward was criticized for not competing in the Cotton Bowl despite being healthy. But if the Buckeyes had earned a trip to the College Football Playoff, he would have played.
“Yes sir,” Ward said Sunday at the NFL combine.
Ward, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 191 pounds, practiced for most bowl preparation for the Dallas-area game against USC. He then opted to sit out rather than risk injury in the game.
“It was definitely a difficult decision,” Ward said. “There were many conversations with the coaches on what I was going to do or whatever. But at the end of the day, it was my overall decision to sit out the Cotton Bowl. It was really to not risk injury.”
It is not unprecedented for potential first-round picks to sit out a bowl game. Running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey both declined to play in bowl games following the 2016 season to avoid injuries. Both players were selected in the top 10 of the 2017 NFL draft.
Several NFL clubs asked Ward why he chose to opt out of the high-profile game.
“I don’t think they’re holding it against me, they just want to hear my thoughts on why I did sit out the bowl game,” Ward said. “They didn’t speak much about it or give their opinion. They kind of just asked me about why did I sit out the bowl game. They wanted to hear my thoughts and then after I told them that they kind of went on to the next question.”
Multiple times, Ward said it was not an easy decision to forgo one final opportunity to play with the Buckeyes. Before making his decision, of which he finalized shortly before the bowl game, he was helping Ohio State’s other cornerbacks prepare for the game in practice.
Ward stood on the sideline during the game.
“It was very difficult,” Ward said. “It’s not like I didn’t want to play the game. It was hard. But I’m glad we got the win, though.”