Ohio State has seen unmatched success developing defensive backs over the past decade. The Buckeyes have had at least one defensive back picked in each of the NFL Drafts since 2013, and Denzel Ward is keeping that streak alive. The Browns selected Ward with the No. 4 overall pick.
Ward has made it three years in a row that a Buckeye cornerback was chosen in the first round, further boosting the reputation of Ohio State being “DBU”:
Denzel Ward is the No. 4 overall pick by the Browns.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 27, 2018
He is the 18th defensive back selected in the first round out of Ohio State in the Common Draft era, five more than any other school. pic.twitter.com/8CiSIgwijr
Considered one of the top corner prospects in this year’s draft class, Ward is the next player to develop under former OSU secondary coach — his current position with the Titans — Kerry Coombs.
Coombs’ players over the years have included Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, and Gaeron Conley. Since the 2013 draft, Ohio State has produced six first-round picks, a second-rounder, and two fourth-round picks.
What makes Denzel Ward a top pick?
First of all, the dude is fast — they don’t call him “Flash” Ward for nothing. His 4.32-second 40-yard dash was tied for the best time this year at the NFL Scouting Combine, and his explosiveness stands out even among some of his Ohio State counterparts.
The guy coming in second place in that video is your reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marshon Lattimore. He was the first Buckeye taken off the board in last year’s draft, and has gone above and beyond what was expected his first year in the league. And by the looks of the 40-yard dash comparison, Ward could be the next Buckeye to exceed expectations.
A downside of being one of many talented players on a team is having a deep rotation to crack. Ward only started 13 career games for Ohio State, but that shouldn’t be too concerning for his new team.
“I would prefer it if you guys referred to him as the third starter at corner, because that’s what he was,” Coombs said after the 2016 season, when Ward played alongside Lattimore and Conley.
Then when he was an actual starter last season, look at what Ward was able to do:
With three years of game film under his belt, the cornerback finished his collegiate career notching 67 total tackles (47 solo), 24 pass breakups and two interceptions. He earned consensus All-America honors in 2017, thanks to a career-best season with 17 passes defended — 15 PBUs and 2 INTs — good for fourth-highest single season total in Buckeye history. Ward finished his Ohio State career having played in 38 games with 13 starts.
He’s the only Buckeye in recent years to sit out of the team’s bowl game in order to rest and prepare for declaring early for the draft.
What’s the biggest concern about Ward?
More than any other characteristic, his size is often debated among scouts and draft analysts. Look, being short can occasionally be a problem — like when covering a 6’5 receiver on the outside — but it’s not something Ward can go out and change. He’s made the most of his talent for being just shy of 5’11.
Denzel Ward 1, Receiver 0 pic.twitter.com/wgK6tryP4S— Sports Thread (@sportsthread) February 14, 2018
What Ward lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and talent — you don’t have to block a pass if you can beat the receiver to the ball in the first place.
That’s why Ward was the first cornerback taken this year.