The Cleveland Browns made a risky move by taking Denzel Ward with the fourth pick, but will that risk be worth it?
After taking Baker Mayfield first overall, the Browns could have gone in a number of directions with their next pick at number four. Ultimately they decided on scooping up the most fluid and athletic corner in Denzel Ward.
As Ohio State continues to churn out defensive superstars like Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, and Joey Bosa, it made it impossible not to take a Columbus product in the top five. However, playing with such NFL quality talent has its setbacks for gaining experience. Despite playing in a crowded corner rotation with Gareon Conely and Lattimore his sophomore year, Ward still forced his way onto the field early and often.
Ward’s impact performance on the field all come from his elite level movement capabilities. He can and will run with the fastest receivers in the NFL. Ward flew at the combine with a 4.32 40 yard dash.
Although, speed is not everything at the corner position. Ward adds to his arsenal outstanding fluidity and change of direction skills, giving him the ability to move with the shiftiest of slot receivers.
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Ward’s quickness does come at a price. Measuring in at barely over 180 pounds and 5 foot 11 inches, Ward is just over the size threshold of a number one corner. Despite his physical limitations, Ward makes up for it with a surprising leaping ability and a 39-inch vertical he recorded at the combine.
The addition of Ward to the Brown’s defensive unit makes it a sneaky good one. Cleveland returns rookie standouts Myles Garrett and Larry Ogujohbi along the defensive line. Opposite of Garrett, their line is capped off by young talented rusher Emmanuel Ogbah.
The Brown’s also still have Jamie Collins and a newly signed Mychal Kendricks in their linebacker corps. Additionally, their secondary looks promising enough on paper to finish in the top 15 with players like EJ Gaines, Damarious Randall, and Jabrill Peppers.
Among this strong unit, Ward is already quickly rising in the depth chart. Even though he came into mini-camp as a backup, Ward is already seeing first-team reps.
Being a number one rookie corner will not be an easy task. Depending on where Ward is lined up, he will have to face off against Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, AJ Green, Michael Thomas, Deandre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, and Mike Evans this season.
Because of these potential matchups, Ward’s 2018 could be a bumpy one. There are far too many games in which he was to take on elite receivers with big size advantages. Due to his size, Ward will not be the same lock-down corner he was in college right off the bat.
However, these games will be important for Ward’s growth after 2018. While he will struggle at times, Ward will be better off the rest of his career for it. His development into an All-Pro corner is solely dependent on how he handles the expectations and adversity in his rookie year.