After selecting Karl Joseph with the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Raiders turned around on day two and drafted Illinois defensive end Jihad Ward with their second round pick (44th overall).
With talented and proven players such as Mackensie Alexander, Jonathan Bullard, Andrew Billings, Jason Spriggs, and Michael Thomas still on the board, it was a surprise seeing the Raiders select Jihad Ward with their second round pick. Ward has a great background story as he wasn't a start in high school but worked hard at a junior college and was eventually offered a scholarship at The University of Illinois.
Ward has great size at 6'5", 297 lbs and offers the versatility to play both defensive tackle and defensive end on the Raiders defensive line. He has a high ceiling and tons of potential, but his production in college was unimpressive as he registered just 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. It is also believed Ward could need surgery knee surgery that could have him out six weeks. The Raiders also gambled on a player (Mario Edwards Jr.) with lots of potential last year with minimum production in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft and that worked out pretty well. Scouts rave about Ward's potential and versatility, but it just confuses me that Oakland would pass up so many proven players for one with question marks.
Jihad Ward isn't a guy I'd seen a lot of throughout his career, because Illinois football has been unwatchable since the graduation of Red Grange. However, Ward has been rising steadily up draft boards this week as teams took notice of his size and athleticism and relatively untapped potential. He is huge for an end at 6'5" and 297 pounds and can play inside as a 3-tech or outside as a 5-tech. He is very good against the run and has a ton of untapped pass-rush potential. He always gives good effort and will draw plenty of attention from offensive lines allowing Raiders edge rushers to roam freely. Ward is extremely raw now, but will grow into a starting lineman and could develop into a very good one- his ceiling is as high as any lineman in this draft. Say what you will about value, but Ward wasn't going to last much longer. Still, there were other players on the board I'd rather have drafted than him.
Definitely a "trust me on this one" pick from Reggie McKenzie. According to most "experts", there were better defensive linemen on the board, but McKenzie proved once again his board is different from everyone else's. I was hoping for Mackensie Alexander there, but Reggie has earned some trust lately so I'll give this a wait-and-see.
Marcus Allen Krause
This is becoming a signature of Reggie McKenzie, he likes to take developmental picks in the 2nd round. Jihad Ward is a hell of an athlete, but he doesn't have a lot of experience as of yet. That isn't necessarily a bad thing though, he is someone that could be molded to be what the Raiders want.
He has played mostly on the ends for Illinois but he has the size to be an inside presence as well. If he is able to play both end and inside then this could be a very good pick for Oakland. It is an interesting pick either way, especially with cornerback Mackenzie Alexander from Clemson still available at the time of the pick.
It is hard not to consider this to be a bit of a reach, however Mike Mayock did have him listed as his #35 best prospect. For comparisons sake though, SB Nation's Dan Kadar has Ward rated 61st. I will have to just trust Reggie McKenzie on this one, though I am happy that he fits the need for depth along the defensive line.
My initial thoughts are that this isn't a great selection here. Ward had just 4.5 career sacks and was just Honorable Mention BIG. He was projected as high as a late third round pick, with some projecting him in the final two rounds of the draft. The reports that he could need a knee surgery that would have him out the first six weeks of the season suggest that he certainly could have fallen into the third day at least. And yet with still a lot of proven defensive tackle and defensive end talent on the board like Jonathan Bullard and Andrew Billings and both Alabama defensive tackles as well as some great talent at other positions, they reach for Ward. The one saving grace is his great story of perseverance, which we know the Raiders value. In the long run, he could turn out to be a good player in this league, but picking a raw player at 44 with concerns about needing surgery is tough.