EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings moved down 15 spots in the fourth round but still managed to select a player they believe can handle moving around in Brian Flores' defensive system.
Minnesota selected Jay Ward, a defensive back out of LSU, with the 134th overall pick on Saturday, the third and final day of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, Ward started 23 of 46 games he played for the Tigers from 2019-22. Ward totaled 164 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, 17 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Here are five things to know about the new Vikings defensive back:
A recurring theme with Minnesota's picks on defense was versatility as the Vikings tried to supply new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores with options for running a system with multiple attacks.
After beginning his college career as an outside corner, Ward transitioned to safety and slot cornerback.
Koki Riley with the Lafayette Daily Advertiser noted Pro Football Focus charted Ward with 230 snaps in the slot, 178 as an outside corner and 104 as a free safety.
"Ward is a physical player against the run, and LSU utilized that strength this past season," Riley wrote. "Despite his thin frame, he played 108 snaps in the box this year and had 60 total tackles."
Ward said he felt like NFL teams looked at his versatility as a benefit.
"Most teams see me as a nickel corner or nickel safety, so either way I knew I would be playing two positions," Ward said Saturday after his selection.
"When you go to corner you have to look at how the wide receiver releases, and for safety you have to understand who you're going against at all times," Ward added. "Especially in the slot, the slot can be tricky with different players. I like trying to get to know route concepts and formations so I know where to play."
View photos of LSU S Jay Ward who was selected No. 134 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.
2. Multiple connections with Vikings
The Vikings already have a head start on ways they might involve Ward.
Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones (2020 and 2022-present) was LSU's defensive coordinator in 2021.
"I love Coach Jones. It was always bigger than on the field with him, and we had a close relationship at LSU," Ward said. "We were tight, and I'm glad I can reunite with him and he can keep molding me to be a better player."
Ward, receiver Justin Jefferson and guard Ed Ingram all were part of LSU's 2019 CFP title squad. The new pick also was a teammate the past three seasons with defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy, who was drafted by the Vikings seven spots after Ward.
3. Football in the family
Ward's brother Johnny played defensive back at South Florida, appearing in 42 games and totaling 131 tackles and four interceptions from 2013-16.
Ward is LSU through and through, adopting the Tigers as his extended family. He frequently has tweeted support for teammates and also supported the women's basketball team during its run to the national title this spring.
Here was the farewell message he tweeted to LSU, but it's clear he has remained committed to the program.
4. 29-1 in a two-season span
Ward is from Moultrie, Georgia, and he attended Colquitt County High School.
During his senior season, he helped his team to a 14-1 mark and an appearance in the Georgia 7A State Championship Game by recording 50 tackles and six interceptions.
The very next season, he helped LSU go 15-0 and win it all as a true freshman.
5. Interesting comparison
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was asked Saturday about working an NFL draft again with Vikings Vice President of Football Operations Demitrius Washington (the duo shared an office in San Francisco for several years and reunited after the 2022 draft when Washington was hired).
In addition to laying out reasons he loves working with Washington and the skills he adds to the process, Adofo-Mensah also connected dots from their time in San Francisco with Jimmie Ward to Jay Ward (no relation).
"We were around Jimmie Ward, so a player that was used in a similar fashion, drafted as a safety, played nickel as a rookie, played outside corner, eventually became a Pro Bowl free safety, so [Washington] saw [Jay Ward], and we were kind of joking, 'Hey, his last name is Ward,' Adofo-Mensah said. "Funny but then, ultimately, we end up drafting the player, and again, that starts with [Washington] and obviously have a great scouting staff, but just having somebody like that in your corner is so invaluable, and again, don't get me started talking about the rest of those guys. We have a great staff here, and I'm so fortunate to have them."
Jimmie Ward, who was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, has started 79 of 106 regular-season games for San Francisco, including all 43 games he played from 2019-21.