A two-year starter at Ohio State, Ward came off the bench in 2016, but he was basically a sophomore starter (along with Lattimore and Conley) before becoming Ohio State’s top corner in 2017, playing primarily left cornerback in the Buckeyes’ press-quarters man scheme – also saw snaps at right corner and in the slot with the Buckeyes’ issues covering tight ends in the second half of the 2017 season.
Speed demon with twitchy athleticism, Ward competes with the balance, patience and movement skills to mirror receivers in press coverage, also showing a decisive reactor to make plays on the ball. His lack of size, length and build immediately stand out, but he plays such tight coverage on film that it usually must be a perfect throw to complete the pass. Overall, Ward’s lack of inches shows at times in coverage and as a run defender, but he is a premier athlete with the budding instincts and required toughness to be trusted vs. NFL receivers on an island, either on the outside or in the slot – a top-three cornerback prospect in this class.
A three-star cornerback recruit out of high school, Denzel Ward helped lead Nordonia to the Division-II state championship game his senior year as an explosive two-way player with nine interceptions and 20 total touchdowns – also a standout in track, winning the 2015 state title in the 200-meters (21.65). He received offers from programs like Cincinnati and Bowling Green, but he shut down his recruitment the moment Ohio State extended an offer.
Ward was a regular on special teams (175 of his 196 snaps in 2015) as a true freshman before working himself into the cornerback rotation as a sophomore behind starters Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. He didn’t register a start in 2016, but played starting-caliber snaps on defense (468), finishing with 23 tackles and nine pass break-ups.
With Lattimore and Conley off to the NFL (both first rounders in the 2017 NFL Draft), Ward moved to the top of the Buckeyes’ cornerback depth chart for his junior season and led the team with 16 passes defended, earning First Team All-Big Ten and All-American honors.
Quick-twitch athlete with explosive movements in any direction. Owns track speed with immediate acceleration to close gaps – the “fastest guy” at Ohio State during the Urban Meyer era, according to OSU strength and conditioning coach Mikey Marotti. Sudden, but composed with swivel hips and velvet feet to stay in phase with elusive receivers.
Quick trigger once he sinks to click-and-close. Lower body muscles to spring, leap and burst. Football intelligence grows with every snap, learning and recognizing routes quicker. Plays the catch point well with his back turned to the quarterback – quick hands and judgement to disrupt. Looks to jab in press coverage. Stings in run support, lowering his pads and arriving with purpose.
Better core strength and toughness than most his size. Utilizes his speed on special teams, blocking a punt vs. Penn State (Oct. 2017) and an extra point at Michigan (Nov. 2017). Quiet, humble individual, but strong competitive spirit – wears jersey No. 12, the same number his father (Paul, who died in 2016 of cardiac arrest) wore in high school. Coachable and worked hard to add nearly 60 pounds the last five years, developing his muscle tone. – Dane Brugler 12/12/2017
Lacks ideal height and length for the outside, creating mismatch issues vs. bigger targets. Works hard in the weight room, but lacks ideal bulk and limb strength. Bad habit of grabbing cloth at the line of scrimmage or near the top of routes.
Plays well with his back to the ball, but needs to do a better job turning his head to locate, which is one of the reasons he collected only two career interceptions. Improved jam technique, but still requires fundamental work in press coverage.
Occasionally plays small as a run defender due to average finishing strength, letting ballcarriers out of his grasp. Wild tackling angles, overpursuing targets. Sticks to blockers on the perimeter with his lack of ideal size/strength limiting his ability to shed. – Dane Brugler 12/12/17
COMPARES TO: Jason Verrett, Los Angeles Chargers - Size and length will never be the strengths for Verrett or Ward, but they both have the twitchy athleticism, ball awareness and toughness that stands out and helps evaluators overlook the lack of stature.
IN OUR VIEW: Ward's lack of inches shows at times in coverage and as a run defender, but he is a premier athlete with the budding instincts and required toughness to be trusted vs. NFL receivers on an island, either on the outside or in the slot. He is one of the top-three cornerbacks in this draft class.