The safety position in the NFL is in a constant state of flux relative to its value — especially as more teams look for hybrid-type players. It wasn’t long ago we saw Jamal Adams get traded for first-round picks, despite being extremely limited in coverage and relegated to playing in the box. Yet, a true ball hawk who can line up across a secondary can turn a defense around.
Jay Ward is hoping to hear his name called in the 2023 NFL Draft. He may have to wait a while, or he may not hear his name at all. Below is everything you need to know in Ward’s scouting report.
Jay Ward NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Safety
- School: LSU
- Year: Fifth-Year Senior
Ward led his high school team to a 14-1 record and an appearance in the Georgia 7A State Championship Game as a senior. In his senior season, Ward had 50 tackles and a whopping six interceptions. It was as a junior, though, where he really began to capture the attention of scouts, recording an equally impressive 46 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and four interceptions, giving him a high school career total of 11 interceptions.
Ward was listed as a three-star recruit by 247 Sports, Rivals, and ESPN. He was ranked 50th nationally among cornerbacks by 247 Sports and 57th by Rivals. That aided Ward going into his freshman year at LSU, where played right away and saw action in 13 games.
As a sophomore, Ward played in nine games and started three of the final four games of the Tigers’ season. Even in limited action, he recorded three interceptions.
Just like in high school, Ward made his mark in his junior season — appearing and starting all 11 games. Ward’s versatility came through as he made seven starts at safety, two at cornerback, and one at the dime position.
Despite playing multiple positions, Ward finished third on the team in tackles with 71 and led the Tigers with a pair of interceptions. On top of that, he added four pass breakups, a forced fumble, and blocked a 52-yard field goal.
This set up a strong finish for Ward as a senior. He played in 13 games with nine starts, starting at three positions in the secondary. His senior season saw him finish with 60 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery.
At LSU, Ward’s coaches described him as a versatile defensive back who played safety, cornerback, dime back, and nickel back. He played a lot of football, making 46 career appearances with 23 starts. He developed into a leader for that secondary, becoming almost like another coach on the field. It should also be noted Ward made the All-SEC Academic Honor Roll team in 2020.
Jay Ward Scouting Report
Strengths: Tough run-defending safety who works to make positive plays. Flashes ability over the slot receiver, quickly transitions off the line, and tracks the pass in the air. Displays a nice move to the throw and effectively times pass defenses. Displays solid range in center field, stays with assignments, and keeps the action in front of him. Gives effort against the run, squares into ball handlers, and wraps up tackling.
Weaknesses: Lacks a closing burst to the action. Doesn’t display the second gear. May not be able to handle a complex defense.
Overall: Ward is a hard-working safety who gets the most from his ability and is very effective facing the action. He’s a tough run defender with solid ball skills who can be a fourth safety on Sundays.
Jay Ward NFL Combine Measurements and Results
The NFL Scouting Combine gives us a great opportunity to see how players stack up in various testing environments. Luckily, PFN has full databases of both NFL Combine measurements and NFL Combine results. Below is everything you need to know from Ward’s Combine performance.
- Height: 6006
- Weight: 188
- Arm: 32 ½”
- Hand: 8 ¼”
- Bench Press: 16
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.55
Jay Ward Current NFL Draft Projection
According to Tony Pauline’s Big Board, Ward is projected as a sixth-round pick. He’s Tony’s 18th-ranked safety — behind LSU teammate Mekhi Garner — and No. 222 overall on his board. Part of this is due to Ward likely not taking the next step following a very strong junior year. After starting each game, he wasn’t able to replicate that as a senior.
Athletically, Ward tests well according to his Relative Athletic Score but lacks top-line speed. His 4.55 40-yard dash doesn’t necessarily track well for teams looking for someone who can turn and burn while patrolling deep halves or thirds. At 188 pounds, Ward also lacks the size to compensate for that lack of top-line speed by playing closer to the line in the box consistently.
Still, Ward’s versatility and experience on special teams should prompt some teams to take a flier on him before the draft is over. Those are the types of players teams like to fill in on the roster for depth purposes.
When running through the PFN Mock Draft Simulator, Ward was selected at pick 190 by the Cleveland Browns, who do need to address the defensive backfield. That could be a good fit for him on draft night. Cleveland’s defense was among the worst in the league against the run, giving up around 135 yards per game, but were proficient against the pass. Ward could find a spot as depth as he looks to further develop his game.
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