Tonight, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward will be selected early in the first round of the NFL Draft.
That’s pretty much just how things go around here anymore.
He will join fellow Buckeyes Bradley Roby, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley as first rounders at cornerback under Urban Meyer at OSU.
Ward rotated with Lattimore and Conley in 2016, surprising a lot of people outside of the program that he was good enough to put either of those two first-round cornerbacks on the bench.
As former cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said at the time, he wasn’t going to put Ward on the field if he wasn’t as good as the two players he was rotating with. People eventually came around and saw what Coombs saw.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano didn’t have to come around at all. He saw it immediately.
“I remember when I first arrived, I guess that first spring, he really performed at a high level,” Schiano said. “I really thought the world of his performance. And then remember he hurt his wrist. I don’t think people realize, that was a significant thing and he played through it the entire year. Then last year, I think he developed into an established starter who played at a very high level. He’s really a very, very good NFL prospect. He’ll be a very good corner in the NFL.”
There are some who believe that Ward could be the best of the Ohio State bunch. He brings elite speed with the press coverage abilities that the NFL has now come to expect from Buckeye cornerbacks.
There are others, however, who have some doubts about him due to his size. At just a smidge under 5-foot-11, Ward does not possess prototypical cornerback height.
That lack of height was never a factor with the Buckeyes. He played bigger than his size and never lacked physicality.
As Greg Schiano explained, any limitations a player has need to be negated by the rest of their skills. This would easily describe Denzel Ward’s overall game.
“Everybody’s a little different,” he said. “When you’re talking about Denzel, so maybe he’s a half an inch short. Okay, I get that. If he’s 5’8”, that’s a different story. People say, ‘Why?’ Well, when balls get caught by that much and they’re a touchdown, that’s how seasons are decided. So every inch counts, but I think you have to take into account his ability to track the ball, ability to jump, his arm length, all of those things because they’re not cookie cutter. A 6-foot guy, a coverage radius of a 5’10” guy maybe greater just the way he’s proportioned. You don’t know. That’s why they do so much in-depth physical discovery on these guys to gather all the information they can.
“So when you’re sitting in the room, if there’s a guy that’s way below the ‘standards,’ then you’ve really got to be careful because, Coach Parcells said it a long time ago. He said, ‘You start taking exceptions, pretty soon you look out on the field and you see a team full of exceptions.’ So you’ve got to have the discipline to stick to your draft strategy. But what happens sometimes if a guy can do something extremely, like extraordinary well, and then maybe one of his other skill sets, I.e. height is a little less, you might be able to talk your way into that. He’s got to have exceptional abilities in some other areas.”
Denzel Ward was a steady bridge between the amazing secondary of 2016 that featured three (soon to be four) first-round NFL Draft picks and the 2017 secondary. Schiano understands the concerns that may exist, but has seen enough of Ward to share zero of them.
“I guess when you do it for a number of years that I have, you’ve been around enough of the great ones that you say, ‘This kid could be a great one,’ and I think he is,” he said.
“I think he’s going to have a fantastic NFL career. An incredibly hard worker on and off the field and. If he’s deemed to be a little short I’m sure he’ll make up for it with his speed and his vertical jump and his timing. I think he’s as skilled as anyone that’s coming out this year.”