2019 Cleveland Browns 10 important players: Denzel Ward

The Cleveland Browns look to build upon their 5-2 finish in the last seven games last season. With lofty expectations, will the Browns live up to the hype? I continue the ten most important players for the 2019 Cleveland Browns as I head over to the Browns defense.

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The Cleveland Browns look to build upon the hysteria of last season and enormous offseason to prove that the projections are accurate. Training camp opens to the excitement and the promise of a potential playoff team.

As I continue the 2019 ten most important players for the Cleveland Browns, let’s review who has made this list:

10. Defensive end Olivier Vernon

9. Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson

8. Tight End David Njoku 

7. Guard Austin Corbett

At the sixth spot of the most important Cleveland Browns players in 2019, let’s take a look at cornerback Denzel Ward.

Denzel Ward is a local hero

Denzel Ward was already a sports star in the Cleveland area. He graduated from Norodonia High School in 2015 where he was named the Division II co-defensive player of the year and a first-team Associated Press all-state selection. Ward was also named Cleveland.com’s defensive player of the year.

Ward was recruited nationally, but once the Ohio State Buckeyes offered him a scholarship he knew he was going to be wearing the scarlet and gray during his collegiate years.

While playing with fellow cream of the crop defensive backs at “Defensive Backs U”, Ward became a shutdown corner and was the starter during his junior season. He was honored with First-team All-American and All-Conference selections in 2017 with 37 tackles, two for loss, two interceptions, and 15 pass breakups.

2018 NFL Draft

The Cleveland Browns surprised the world when they started the 2018 NFL Draft and selected Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick.

The Browns also had the No. 4 overall pick, and there was a difficult decision between North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward. Browns’ general manager John Dorsey had both players graded very similarly, and Dorsey allowed then defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to make the selection. With the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select Denzel Ward, a cornerback from THE Ohio State University.

Ward has top-notch ball skills, durability, and overall speed. He began the draft process as a projected top-ten overall selection. Ward impressed at the NFL Combine with a 4.32 second time in the 40-yard dash, and a 39-inch vertical jump. The only concern with Ward was his lack of ideal size for an NFL cornerback. Ward believes that he plays big and his physicality makes up for it.

“The reason is our need for a press cover cornerback,” Williams said. “Denzel probably plays that position as well as anyone I’ve seen in college football in some time. We probably play the most press of any team in the league.”

Rookie Pro-Bowler Denzel Ward

Denzel Ward was a massive piece of the defensive puzzle as the Browns entered the 2018 season. He was the starter at cornerback for the first game of the 2018 NFL Season.

The fourth overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft made his presence felt immediately in his first game. He had two interceptions of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the Browns tied the Steelers in Week 1.

In 13 games in 2018, he recorded 53 tackles, 11 pass defenses, and three interceptions along with two fumble recoveries.  The former Buckeye earned the NFL Rookie of the Week honors twice during the 2018 season. He was also named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after blocking a field goal against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.

Ward became the shutdown cornerback that John Dorsey and Gregg Williams believed he could be when they selected him fourth overall. He allowed just 53.7 percent of the passes thrown into coverage to be caught.

The rookie was named to the Pro Bowl for his excellence which includes yielding an average of 0.88 yards per coverage snap, which ranked fourth among first-year cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

The turnaround for the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 season was monumental. They went from the atrocious 0-16 to 7-8-1 in just one season amidst a coaching change during the season.

Ward has tackling issues

One extreme negative concerning the rookie cornerback was his tackling issues. He was concussed twice in three weeks during the 2018 season due to poor tackling form on Ward’s part.

Cleveland Browns interim coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams publicly and privately ripped Ward last year for failing to protect himself while tackling adequately, and Ward said he felt as if his technique was sound. Williams wanted Ward to take out the legs of bigger opponents, but Ward didn’t shy away from hitting them high.

Williams believed for Ward to move up to the next elite level, he needs to make changes to his tackling techniques:

“I was glad to hear (it wasn’t serious) and maybe he’ll finally listen to me and stop doing those stupid things the way he’s trying to tackle and tackle the way I tell him to tackle and he won’t get hurt,” Williams said Sunday, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

The Pro Bowl cornerback finally conceded that he needed to change his tackling form after suffering multiple concussions. The concussions forced Ward to miss games in 2018 including the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

Ward found a dance partner

There is a ton of excitement centered around quarterback Baker Mayfield and the acquisitions of wide receiver Odell Beckham and running back Kareem Hunt as the Cleveland Browns head into the 2019 season.

The Cleveland Browns are facing hefty expectations in 2019. They finished last season going 5-2 over its final seven games which led the Dawg Pound fans into hysteria.

Along with the offensive additions, the Browns improved the defensive side of the ball by trading for a defensive end, Olivier Vernon, signing defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson in free agency, and drafting cornerback Greedy Williams in the second round (46th overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Dorsey traded up three spots to select Williams who was an elite talent at Louisiana State University but fell in the draft due to character concerns.

Ward called Greedy Williams after the Browns picked him to welcome him to the team. They discussed forming a shutdown cornerback duo worthy of comparison to the original Dawgs Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.

The Cleveland Browns faithful would love to see this young duo lead this Browns defense in shutting down opposing receivers and realizing their goal of being the best in the NFL.

The Hype is Real

The Cleveland Browns will be in unfamiliar territory as we head into the 2019 season. They are favored to win the AFC North.

The Browns will be facing enormous pressure to live up to the hype. With teams facing one of the top offensive teams with Cleveland, there will be teams forced to play from behind which will shine the spotlight on Ward and Williams.

Ward is having a great taste of what he has to endure this season by facing Odell Beckham daily in practice. Beckham is one of the best receivers in the league and will make Ward a better player and Ward agrees:

“I love going against Odell, someone who’s going to compete, and he’s going to get me ready for the games,” Ward told the Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich. “We have a lot of conversations. I told him he’s going to be one of the reasons my game goes to the next level. I definitely enjoy (competing), and looking forward to going against him more and Jarvis (Landry) and a lot of those receivers.”

The 22-year-old Ward will play a massive part if the Browns want to break the longest active postseason drought in the NFL, as the Browns have not made the playoffs since 2002.

The expectations are for Ward to seal the shutdown corner job that he was drafted to be. Ward and Williams are projected to become a duo that opposing receivers do not want to see staring across from them at the line of scrimmage.

ESPN is expecting Ward to build upon last season and have another Pro Bowl season. It is projecting him to rack up 68 tackles, a couple of picks, a forced fumble and 12 passes defended.

The future is bright for the Cleveland Browns with four players including Denzel Ward on the top 25 NFL players under 25 for 2019. His shutdown defense will be crucial to the success of the Cleveland Browns defense in 2019.

 

Dennis Sosic is a writer for PFN covering the Cleveland Browns. He is also a co-host of the AFC North & Goal Podcast under PFN’s Podcast Network. You can follow him @CALL_ME_SOS on Twitter.

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