Chicago Bears Film Room: Is Denzel Ward worth number eight?
Is Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward worthy of a top ten pick in the 2018 NFL Draft?
As the draft season is close to ending, the mass rumors will slowly begin to die and we will see what teams really think of these players. However, from early reports, one player the Chicago Bears tend to be high on is Denzel Ward.
After signing Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller to extensions this offseason, it has to be questioned whether or not that is the best use of resources at the eighth overall pick. Of course, cornerback is high up on the positional value chart. The team did re-sign Bryce Callahan, but re-signigng him to a low-level replacement level deal speaks to what they think of him. Does the tape add up to the value to equal a top ten player?
What is nice about Ward is that he has played man and zone, outside and the slot. While he only has one full season of starting experience, Ohio State put a lot on his plate early. As you can see below, Ohio State had no problems shifting safety help away from his side and leaving him on an island. Ohio State has two deep, and their furthest safety to Ward’s side is in the middle of the field. On top of that, Ward is pressing right in the face of his receiver. This was asked of Ward often, and much more than other corners.
In press man with no help, Denzel Ward thrived. He was able to combine his deep speed with lateral agility and foot quickness to make instant plays on the ball in man. Below he plays the slant route perfect for third and seven. Watch him flip his hips and close in on the route to guarantee the punt.
The closing speed is on display as the crossing route forces him to take an outside path. Still, Ward is able to loop around two people and close quick enough to force an incompletion.
While Denzel Ward is immediately critiqued for his size, it did not scare Ohio State away from no safety help and did not scare him away from pressing with confidence. His ability to get off of the snap quicker than his opponent gives him the instant win and has him dictating the terms of the route.
He flips his hips tremendously quick and is able to force his receiver inside.
And outside. Watch how fluidly he is able to move with his feet and how balanced he is gliding down the field with ease as he turns his body around.
Ward does not have great length but is not just strong in press due to his quick feet and fluid movement. He is able to jam at the line and use his strength to dictate the route.
One thing that will catch up to Ward in man is double moves. As shown below, Ward bites for the underneath route. A poor pass and his quick burst are able to get him back into the play, but without the safety help, those types of mistakes could really hurt him.
In zone, Ward was also instinctive and understanding. The play below can be used an example of a negative in his play for a section below. However, watch the instincts as he reads the quarterback and branches off of his man to make the play on the ball.
Related Story: Denzel Ward draft profile
The questionable size highlighted in a missed chance at an interception has some suggesting he head into the slot more often to take on smaller wide receivers. The fact of the matter is that he if he wants to get onto the field early into his career with the Bears, it will be in the slot.
It is kind of funny that Ward is a player who could be compared to Chris Harris. Harris, a teammate of former Ohio State Buckeye Bradley Roby started his career in the slot before being regarded as an elite NFL corner. Roby spent his first four seasons in the NFL in the slot as well and this season is looking to transfer outside with the release of Aquib Talib. It was the path of his former teammate and upside NFL comparison and if drafted in Chicago it will be the path Denzel Ward takes. So, how does Ward show here?
Ward showed well.
It is no surprise. He has the quick feet to press and change directions in an instant combined with the quick reaction and ability to read the quarterback and receiver. Just like on the outside, his quick hips get him in a foot race from the start and Ward is always going to make up ground when in a foot race.
Being on an island so often makes a player like Ward much more comfortable in the open space that comes with playing in the slot. He moves with ease and studies his receiver like a veteran. He sees the receiver look for the ball and Ward makes a play on the ball, reading the receiver the entire time.
Quickly firing out of the slot, Ward is able to sustain coverage over the middle of the field.
Denzel Ward exhibits the quick feet and lateral quickness that give immediate confidence that Ward would be a legitimate slot starter in the NFL next season. Watch the balance as he shuffles flawlessly with the receiver.
Watch Ward come in from the right side to the middle of the field. Smooth hips and quick feet have him changing directions on a dime without a slip up in his firm tight coverage. There is no doubt that his abilities will make for an excellent slot cornerback at the worst.
One thing in which you will consistently notice with Ward is how he plays deep balls and comebacks. Ward often plays trail coverage in which he allows his man to get a step downfield. This leaves Ward less susceptible to comebacks and curl routes. Denzel Ward ran a 4.32 in the 40-yard dash and knows that the deep ball is the least accurate pass in football. With his recovery speed, he is able to put quarterbacks in tough spots trying to fit passes into tight windows, as shown below.
However, one issue that does occur with his ability to force teams to test him deep is his habit to stay physical down the field. His biggest issue when translating to the NFL is going to be getting his head turned. Perfect coverage as he strides down the field with his man can be lost with a costly pass interference.
More from Bear Goggles On
- Franchise tag and transition tag windows open for Chicago Bears and NFL
- How the Chicago Bears can control the running back market in 2023
- The Chicago Bears can own the city of Chicago moving forward
- Chicago Bears NFL Combine Preview: Quarterback
- 7 best free agent tackle options for Chicago Bears
Ward is grabby, there is no way around it. However, there are a lot of instances in which he can use this to his advantage. Ward was in perfect position on the play below. He was playing the ball and while his hand gets caught onto the jersey, in the speed of the game, with his swallowing coverage and ability to stop on the dime, he is going to get away with this.
Again, Ward has his head turned and is able to play the ball. He lives on the edge, and is open to being called for pass interference, or getting a reputation, but he is also subtle and quick enough to work with it.
The two below are absolutely perfect displays of what Ward can do in his trail coverage. Ward has his head turned, he is staying in stride with his man as he turns his body around to put himself in position to box out his opponent and make the catch. This is another play that came from the slot.
Denzel Ward has his head turned, he forced the receiver to his outside and made a play with his inside leverage. When Ward is able to read his receiver and get his head around, he is going to be one of the toughest cornerbacks in the NFL.
Of course, tougher only comes in terms of coverage. One issue with consistency sticking Ward in the slot is his lack of physicality in the running game. He is interested and willing to stick his head in on most occasions. However, he brings weak attempts too often and is shrugged off in the running game consistently.
Of course, no one is drafting Denzel Ward for run defense. Still, his physical limitations show on tape enough to cause some concern. We all remember the play above. A great play in zone could have been a completion because he was too short. Simmie Cobbs physically dominated his opponent in a plus size matchup as well. This is not something that he will easily overcome in the NFL.
Still, while many point out his troubles against size, and specifically point to Simmie Cobbs, it is because Simmie Cobbs is truly the only receiver to take advantage of him in this way. Ward struggled in week one against Cobbs. Whether it be size or rust, that was easily his worst performance of the season. So while the size of Cobbs was an issue, and in the NFL more physical receivers are coming, it also does not destroy all of the good put together by Ward. Ward learned and adjusted and consistenty got better from Week One on.
The ceiling is sky high with Denzel Ward. In Chicago, he would be on the right path in the right situation to grow from the slot to the outside and climb the ladder of elite cornerbacks. However, there is a reason Chris Harris and Bradley Roby did not go in the top ten either. No matter how safe they were, they may not have been top ten safe.
To take a player that higher there must be almost no concerns or the elite ceiling to overcome many of those concerns.
With Ward, his ability to get his head around and grab receivers down the field can be ironed out. Still, that is likely his biggest detriment so far. The double moves are not a glaring flaw,but did show. However, with those questions, combined with his size and physical limitations, you have a prospect who has first-round upside but may not be top ten clean.
It is the right fit, the upside is there, but for the Chicago Bers, it is still tough to pull the trigger at eight.