The Cleveland Browns made a bit of a surprise pick with their selection of cornerback Denzel Ward at No. 4 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft in April.
After taking quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 pick, the Browns had a chance to snag pass-rushing end Bradley Chubb — considered the consensus best defensive player in the draft — three selections later.
Instead, they opted for Ward, who starred collegiately at Ohio State. Ward appears to be justifying Cleveland’s faith in him, practicing with the first-team defense on Tuesday during the final session of organized team activities.
“Ward being out there is because he’s earning it,” said Browns coach Hue Jackson after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s working at it. He plays a position that we’ve been needing a guy to step up. We see him improving each and every day and doing the things that we’re asking.
“He needs to continue to do that to continue to be out there but we know he’s very talented. That’s why we drafted him. He’s displayed that since he’s been here.”
Shortly following the draft, Cleveland general manager John Dorsey said Ward possesses all the requisite tools to be a shutdown cornerback, citing his vertical speed, quickness and “great” ball skills.
Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also was quoted as saying that Ward plays the position of press cover cornerback “as well as anyone I’ve seen in college football in some time.”
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Ward is getting varied looks against a Cleveland receiving corps that feature a tall, physical wideout in Josh Gordon, a pure speedster in Corey Coleman and a superb possession player in Jarvis Landy.
During a practice last week, Ward flashed his skills by breaking up fade route in the end zone intended for the 6-3, 225-pound Gordon, according to Cleveland.com.
“For me, just watching him, it is just all of the things we do and the different types of receivers that changes from play to play and who he has to go up against, learning a complicated system that we have on defense,” said Jackson. “I think that he has handled that pretty well.”