COLUMBUS, Ohio —** Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward looked the part at his Pro Day.
Ward, widely considered one of the best players in this year’s NFL Draft class, appeared as good as advertised Thursday at the Woody Hayes Athletic center, as teams (including the Browns) across the league evaluated the Buckeyes’ best prospects.
That, of course, includes Ward, whose instincts, speed and athleticism could make him a top-10 pick come April. He showed off those skills in on-field workouts and did so earlier this month at the league’s annual scouting combine, where Ward recorded one of the fastest 40-yard dash times (4.38 seconds) and the longest broad jump (11-foot-4) of any player there.
“I would say my speed separates myself from other players,” Ward said at the combine. “Other than speed, my footwork at the line of scrimmage and my ability to be able to mirror receivers and stay in the hip pocket of receivers.”
Mickey Marotti, Ohio State’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance, said Ward’s explosiveness and toughness make him a special player.
“He's got what they call twitch. He’s so twitchy out there with his quick movements, his quickness, his overall downfield speed. Great kid. He’s not scared to hit,” Marotti said.
“You guys have all seen, over his career, him throw it in there. He’s made some big hits. I just talked to a couple of coaches about that, they’re excited to see that when they study him on tape that they’ll throw it in there and when you’re not a big guy, to do that, that’s pretty good.”
Ward, the former Nordonia standout and Macedonia native, is expected to be the first Ohio State player drafted this year despite some concerns about his size (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) and limited experience (he played one season as a full-time starter). He’s also among several candidates the Browns — owners of the first and fourth overall picks — could add to a secondary in need of playmakers. Cleveland finished second-to-last in interceptions (7) last season and 26th in passing touchdowns (28) allowed.
While the Browns recently fortified their defensive backfield with the additions of free safety Damarious Randall and cornerbacks T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell in free agency, draft analysts -- including NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah -- believe Ward has the skills to be an elite defender at the next level. “At the end of the day, Ward might lack ideal size, but he is a very skilled player and I love his competitiveness,” Jeremiah wrote in his list of the draft’s top 50 prospects.
Ward is poised to become the fourth Ohio State corner selected in the first-round in the past three years, a group that includes Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore (2017), Oakland's Gareon Conley (2017) and the New York Giants' Eli Apple (2016).
“I’m very excited. That’s what kind of led to my reasoning of leaving early,” Ward said at the combine. “I wanted to kind of uphold that tradition of being that next guy to be a first-round draft pick from Ohio State.”
Ward continued to make that case Thursday.