The 2019 season was a complete wash for the Cleveland Browns, as they failed to live up to their preseason hype. However, there were some bright spots to be found on their roster. One that stands out on tape is Denzel Ward.

Now entering the 2020 season as a third-year vet in an astoundingly young cornerback room, the Browns will be expecting Ward to take another step forward from his 2019 campaign. Ending his season on a high note, there is plenty to build off of for Ward as he is now the elder statesman in the room.

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Don’t let Denzel Ward’s 2019 slow start jade your views

The first two weeks of the season, Ward struggled to live up to his standing as a Pro Bowler, which he achieved as a rookie the year before. Week 1, he got toasted by rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, then looked out of sorts in Week 2 against the New York Jets as well.

Ward misses four games due to injury in 2019

His play may have been solved the following week, as he was then scratched from the lineup the following four weeks of the season due to a hamstring injury. Given the way Ward played when he returned from his injury in Week 8, it has become evident the former fourth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft was playing hurt or limited the first two games of the season.

He returned just in time for their match-up with the New England Patriots, a game where he knocked down two passes and registered four solo tackles.

Turning to the tape in his first week back

While the Browns had a horrible outing against the Patriots a year ago, losing 27-13 in a game where they turned the ball over on three straight possessions, the defensive side of the ball, and Ward in particular, had a good outing. In his first game back, Ward showed his footwork and abilities in man coverage, the attributes that got him drafted in the top five in the first place.

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NFL.com’s Nick Shook ranked Ward as the seventh-best defensive back in coverage from a year ago, with the likes of Chicago Bears’ safety Eddie Jackson and Buffalo Bills’ cornerback Tre White:

“Ward lands here in large part due to the numbers he produced while facing the highest target rate among this group. There’s also his coverage success rate of 61 percent and his ball hawk rate of 14.3 percent, which are impressive on their own, but also come with Ward’s tight window rate of 28.6 percent”.

The Patriots are not known to have a top-tier receiving corp, but Ward showed the ability to flip his hips in man coverage, as well as click and close quickly in zone coverage. Fully recovered from his hamstring injury, the clamps were back on for the Warden.

As the season went on and things began to go downhill for the Browns, leading ultimately to the parting of ways with their head coach and general manager, Ward continued to grow as a player.

What to expect from Ward in 2020

Using his dominant stretch at the end of his 2019 campaign as a building block, Ward is ready to take another step forward in his young career. The Browns finished the season with a Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but Ward once again flashed.

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He recorded an interception in that game, showing his ability to hang deep with John Ross III who has the record for the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Hanging stride for stride with Ross, Ward tracked the ball into the endzone and high pointed the prized jewel.

Ward will be heavily leaned upon by youngsters and newcomers in secondary

Now with his third defensive coordinator in as many years, Joe Woods will put Ward in a position to succeed: In a heavy man coverage scheme. A Pro Bowler in 2018, and with a strong finish to 2019, Ward has plenty of steam and dominance to build off of.

Ward has been the cornerstone of the Cleveland secondary since he entered the league in 2018, and the Browns will continue to heavily rely on his prowess as they look to build towards a successful future. While many will look at the start of his season to discredit his 2019 season, the tape does not lie. Ward put together a dominant showing from his island after returning from his injury.