The Ohio State Buckeyes have an impressive trend of averaging one cornerback selected in the first round of the past four NFL drafts. And Denzel Ward is in position to make it 5-for-5.
"That's what kind of led to my reasoning for leaving early," Ward told reporters at the recently concluded NFL Combine. "I wanted to uphold that tradition of being the next guy to be a first-round pick from Ohio State."
Draft watchers see Ward going somewhere in the high middle of the first round. Anywhere in the round and he'll maintain that pace started by Bradley Roby (31st overall to Denver in 2014) and sustained by Eli Apple (10th to the Giants in '16), Marshon Lattimore (11th to New Orleans in '17) and Gareon Conley (24th to Oakland in '17).
Ward said he's consulted with them all regarding the Combine, the draft and the pro game ahead. What makes him think he's in that fast company?
"I would say definitely my speed kind of separates myself from other players," he said. "Also my footwork at the line of scrimmage and my ability to be able to mirror receivers and stay in their hip pockets."
Asked how he would time in the 40, he offered adverbs, not numbers. "Fast," he said. "Very fast."
As in 4.32 and 4.36 seconds in his two dashes. The 4.32 was tied for the best time not only among all DBs but among all invitees regardless of position at this year's Combine. In fact, it was tied for the 12th-best time among all participants in the last 10 Combines.
Ward was more than a one-hit wonder in Indy. His 11'4" broad jump was longest among all participants at this year's Combine and tied for sixth-best in the last decade.
As for his vertical, Ward offered a special story. He dedicated his leap to his father, Paul, an Ohio intermediate school principal who died after suffering cardiac arrest in 2016, and he and his family have started a scholarship fund in his father's memory. His 39.0" vertical tied for seventh among all Combine DBs this year.
The testing added to his three seasons at OSU — as a sophomore and junior combined he totaled just two interceptions but 24 pass defenses and allowed only 32% completions — have convinced NFL teams and observers such as NFL.com's Mike Mayock, who pegs him as the top corner in the draft.
"Denzel tackles, he's quick, he's fast, he's got ball skills, he finds it in the air," Mayock said. "My only question with him is you can see how slight he is." Although Ward was listed as 5'10" and 191 pounds in Indy, he said he was around 184 and Mayock had him at 183.
It's not ideal corner size for draft purists, but that won't derail the plans for the humble but talented young man on Thursday evening, April 26.
"It's going to be exciting," Ward said of the first night of the draft. "I'm going to enjoy seeing the smiles on my mom's face, my brother's and my family's. And I know my dad's going to be looking down smiling. I know he'd wish he could've been here."