Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
5’10”, 191 lbs
40-yd Dash: 4.32 seconds
Vertical Jump: 39-inches
2017: 37 Tackles, 2 Interceptions, 15 Passes Defended
2016: 23 Tackles, 0 Interceptions, 9 Passes Defended
2017 First-Team All-American
2017 First-Team All-Big Ten
2016 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten
What Ward lacks in size, he makes up for with his agility and scrappy playing style. He is a very physical tackler for a cornerback and is not afraid to throw his body into opponents and lower the boom.
In coverage, Ward often plays in a trail technique where his back is to the quarterback. This is difficult for corners because they must read the hands and eyes of the wide receiver to judge when to shoot their hands to break up a pass. While it is difficult to rack up interceptions with this technique, it is effective for breaking up passes.
This helped him allow just over 30-percent of passes thrown his way to be completed over his two years as a Buckeye. Ward is often on the hip of the receivers he covers and is difficult to shake due to his excellent hip flexibility and footwork allowing him to quickly change direction.
At 5’10” and 191 lbs, Ward is on the smaller end of what NFL teams look for in a cornerback. This may lead some teams to believe that he is limited to the slot, although I would argue his feisty style of play helps to make up for his frame.
While he can play in the trail technique at a high level, there are times when Ward had enough time to turn his head and find the ball. If he improves in this area, some of those pass breakups could turn into interceptions.
The standout corner plays off-man press similar to former teammate and Raiders 2017 first round pick Gareon Conley. What this means is that rather than getting his hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt their routes, Ward uses his hips to match their movements. Like Conley, he got away with this in college due to his athleticism. But quicker receivers in the NFL will make him pay if he doesn’t press with his hands.
After playing in the shadows of Marcus Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward took over as the Buckeyes top cornerback in 2017. He might not fit the mold of the larger defensive backs teams covet, but he has the athleticism and feistiness to play isolated man coverage at a high level.
Ward doesn’t boast the high interception numbers that Iowa corner Josh Jackson has, but he is consistent and rarely allows receptions. He is also an aggressive tackler and can contribute to run defense. He should contribute immediately as a productive starter on both the outside and inside.
Fit with Raiders
The Raiders secondary will be unrecognizable from last season as the team added Marcus Gilchrist, Rashaan Melvin, and Shareece Wright in free agency. Rookies Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu are also expected to return from injuries.
Despite all the additions, the Silver and Black could still use help at cornerback. Adding Denzel Ward to the unit would make for a nice starting trio with Conley and Melvin. The First-Team All-American would also fit schematically in Paul Guenther’s defense that is heavy on man coverage. In a division with talented receivers, adding another quality defensive back wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.