Cornerback | Ohio State | Junior
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 183 pounds
2017: First season as a starter; 37 tackles (30 solo); two interceptions; 2.0 tackles for loss; 15 passes broken up; one punt returned for 10 yards; blocked a fourth-quarter punt against Penn State that sparked an 18-point comeback for a Buckeyes win; named First-Team All-American by Associated Press, *AFCA and *The Sporting News; received All-Big Ten honors by the media
Career: Started 14 of 37 games played; 67 tackles (47 solo), two interceptions, 2.0 tackles for loss, 24 passes broken up, one punt returned for 10 yards; 2016 All-Big Ten honorable mention (media); First-Team All-American and All-Big Ten (media) in 2017
40-yard dash: 4.32 (tied for first among cornerbacks)
Bench press: 16 reps of 225 pounds (tied for eighth among cornerbacks)
Broad jump: 11 feet, 4 inches (first among cornerbacks)
Vertical jump: 39 inches (tied for second among cornerbacks)
3-cone drill: Did not participate
20-yard shuttle: Did not participate
Summary:Ward attended Nordonia High School in Macedonia, Ohio, where he impressed on both sides of the ball. As a senior in 2014, he snagged nine interceptions. He also racked up more than 1,300 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns on offense, helping to lead Nordonia to a 14-1 record and an appearance in the state championship.
Ward was part of a deep Ohio State secondary – including 2017 first-round draft picks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley – and did not become a starter until 2017, but he made the most of his opportunity. He saw limited action as a true freshman, recording seven tackles for contributing mostly on special teams. As a sophomore in 2016, Ward tied Lattimore in leading the team with nine pass breakups.
According to his NFL.com Draft profile, Ward benefits from natural athletic ability and can gain good position on receivers at the line of scrimmage. He's described as being "patient from press, showing no panic or hurry" but can backpedal for a long time and has impressive footwork. Other strengths include his ability to read clues from off-man coverage and reading "slants and drives in front of the route" with the intent of making a play on the ball.
NFL analyst Lance Zierlein feels that Ward may be best-suited initially to play in the slot at the pro level.
"Ward is outstanding as a mirror-and-match cornerback with great route feel who is able to maintain tight coverage around the field with good technique and pattern recognition," Zierlein said. "He should become an early starter at nickel cornerback with the talent to make an immediate impact for a defense that faces a pass-happy division foe twice per year."
If Ward is drafted in Round 1 of this year's draft, he will be the fourth Ohio State cornerback in three years to be off the board in the first round.
Stacking up: NFL Media analysts Bucky Brooks and Mike Mayock both listed Ward as the top cornerback in this year's draft class before and after the combine. Daniel Jeremiah initially tabbed Ward as the No. 8 overall player in his list of Top 50 prospects, but he bumped Ward up to No. 4 following his showing in Indianapolis.
Jeremiah said that although Ward is on the smaller end for an NFL corner, "he plays much bigger than his height."
Jumping for his father:At the combine, Ward's performance in the vertical jump influenced more than just evaluation of his football skills.
The cornerback jumped to support a scholarship fund in the name of his father, who passed away unexpectedly from cardiac arrest at the age of 46. Ward started the "Inches for Education" fund in memory of his father, who was a principal, and people could donate a certain amount of money per inch.
Ward told media members that it was extremely important to him to honor his father in this way.
"My father was a role model in my life, and somebody that I really looked up to," Ward said. "It was very difficult when my dad passed away, so I wanted to do something to honor [him]. I know he would enjoy seeing me here."
Pledges for Ward's vertical jump reached $161.87 per inch, resulting in $6,313 donated to the scholarship fund.