At the time of the draft, many thought that taking Denzel Ward at No. 4 was a risky move for the Cleveland Browns.
He is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Would he be able to be Cleveland’s top cornerback and go up against some of the best receivers in the NFL week in and week out was the biggest question.
Cleveland rolled the dice on the hometown kid despite just having one interception in college.
And that roll of the dice has paid dividends.
Ward has been exactly what the Browns have needed out of a corner who can follow around the opposing team’s number one receiving option all game.
In 12 games played (he missed the Carolina game with a concussion), the Ohio State product has made 48 tackles, forced one fumble, recovered two fumbles, made three interceptions, and broke up 11 passes thrown his way.
Against Pittsburgh in Week 1, Ward picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice, broke up three more passes, and made six stops.
He has recorded seven tackles and broke up three passes two times this season.
The rookie was missed in Sunday’s win versus the Panthers.
Cleveland, a bit uncharacteristically, missed a decent amount of tackles and allowed 265 yards through the air.
That 265 is not the most Cleveland has allowed this year, but Cam Newton was able to nickel-and-dime the Browns down the field (especially in the first half). Ward could have been used in that aspect to help tackle or slide over to cover the slot receiver.
Carolina does not have much of a deep threat guy that Ward would have been asked to cover if he was suited up.
Rookie and Ward’s former Ohio State teammate Curtis was the most successful on getting downfield. He had four catches for 80 yards, with a long of 33.
Devin Funchess was not even targeted by Newton in the game.
Terrance Mitchell’s return helped mitigate the absence of Ward, as Mitchell recorded five tackles. This is his first game back after being placed on IR and missing eight weeks.
With a team that throws the ball downfield more, missing Ward may have shown more.
But this is exactly why Cleveland drafted him with the fourth overall pick. To lock down one side of the field. To take away one of the offense’s best weapons.
As every rookie goes through, especially rookie cornerback, he has had rough games, but that is to be expected. Ward has had to face some of the best pass catchers in his rookie campaign (Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, and Deandre Hopkins to name some).
This will just make him that much of a better corner and make that No. 4 pick look that much better.
Finding a CB just as talented to play opposite of him will make the Browns defense truly scary.