EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings on Saturday opened the final day of the 2023 NFL Draft by selecting LSU safety Jay Ward with the 134th overall pick.
Ward started 23 of the 46 games he played for the Tigers, totaling 164 tackles (109 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, 17 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
He played all over the field for the Tigers and said NFL teams appreciate his versatility and ability to play safety or nickel corner.
"You've got to take film study different [depending] what position you play," Ward said. "Because when you go to corner, you have to look at how wide receivers release. At safety, you have to know who you're going against at all times. Especially the slot. The slot can be tricky for different players. I like to try to get to know route concepts, formations, so I know what the play is."
Vikings Vice President of Football Operations Demitrius Washington described what the Vikings observed in Ward's game.
"His versatility and experience at multiple positions, even sometimes going from nickel to safety in the same game, that was very attractive to us," he said. "So we actually plan on using him in a similar role."
Washington did acknowledge the added challenge of evaluating and inputting data on a player who lined up at multiple positions.
"I will say there are ways that we can try to adjust for that, whether it's mentally or within modeling framework, whatever it is, if we're going that route, Washington said. "Him playing multiple spots, while it was intriguing, it was also challenging … in the evaluation process."
View photos of LSU S Jay Ward who was selected No. 134 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Ward teamed with Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson and guard Ed Ingram on LSU's 2019 CFP championship squad as a true freshman.
And those aren't the only connections he has to Minnesota's staff and roster. Ward played against Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., multiple times in high school. He also played for a season at LSU under Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones.
"First of all, I'd like to thank God for putting me in this position and thank [General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah] for taking a chance with me and reuniting me with Coach Jones," Ward said. "This is a decision he won't regret.
"I love Coach Jones," he added. "It's always bigger than on the field with him, and we had a close relationship at LSU. We were tight. I'm glad I can reunite with him and he can keep molding me to be a better player."
Washington, who called Ward "contagiously competitive," said the Georgia native's existing connection with Jones adds to his value in joining Minnesota.
"Jay having a relationship with Daronte, that'll help him hit the ground running quicker," Washington noted. "And we also … have more information on the guy, somebody who's been around him, as well."
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, Ward was a 3-star recruit out of Colquitt County High School.
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote Ward is a "versatile defensive back with a fearless playing mentality."
"Ward has good size and length for a nickel cornerback, but he lacks a little thickness as a safety who likes to hit. He can be counted on to do his job in run support from the slot and has adequate coverage talent from off-man and zone," Zierlein added. "He will make plays when he's in position to do so but doesn't have the route anticipation needed for strong on-ball production just yet. Ward takes good angles to the football in coverage and run support as a safety. His versatility improves his chances of becoming an NFL starter in the future."
Minnesota selected Ward after trading down from 119th overall.
Not long after, however, the Vikings traded back up with Indianapolis in order to nab LSU defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy.
Knowing he'll reunite with his Tigers teammate made the day even more exciting for Ward.
"When I first got the call, I was outside talking to my brother, but when I saw Minnesota, I ran in the house," Ward said. "And then when I was on the phone talking to y'all in Minnesota, I heard somebody say J-Roy just got picked, so to reunite with him, we're back.
"I played with him for three years. I know what he can bring to the table, and he definitely isn't going to let you down," Ward added. "He's a great player."