NFL Draft

2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Illinois DE/DT Jihad Ward

As we delve into the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Steelers are likely to have interest in.

Being as the Steelers might have an interest in drafting another defensive end this year, today we will profile Illinois DE/DT Jihad Ward

#17 – Jihad Ward/DT/DE Illinois: 6051 296

The Good

– Ideal size for 5-tech with long arms and wing span
– Athletic for size
– Very rarely off feet
– Runs after football
– Played up and down defensive line
– Rushed standing up occasionally
– Anchors reasonable well against double teams when he “wants-to”
– Faced quality competition in Big 10

The Bad:

– Very raw player and needs coaching
– No real counters as pass rusher and not heavy handed
– No mean streak
– Inconsistent get off
– Inconsistent pad level
– Does not jump off tape as pass rusher

Other:

– Two Year Starter
– Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (2014 & ’15)
– 2015 53 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, two PBUs, two QB hurries one forced fumble and one fumble recovery
– 2014 51 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, five QB hurries, two forced fumbles and one PBU
– Junior College transfer
– Played wide receiver in high school

Tape Breakdown:

In the three games that I watched of Ward, the two things that stood out to me the most was his effort and his ability to stay off the ground. In this first clip against Iowa, Ward is able to avoid being cut and after that he crashed down the line in order to corral the ball carrier.

When Ward uses his long arms well he can gain control of opposing offensive linemen and disengage to make a tackle. On this play he shows you that skill set against Iowa tackle Cole Croston. Watch how he stays square and keeps his feet and legs churning as he works down the line

While you would probably like to see Ward have more active hands on this play, he does a great job of setting the edge and finally disengaging from the tight end in order to clothesline the running back.

Players always need to run after the football and that’s exactly what Ward does on this play. It starts with him running a twist inside from the left outside spot. After closing down one escape lane for the quarterback, Ward continues to give chase and eventfully delivers a big hit along the far sideline just short of the first down marker.

Unfortunately, below was Ward’s only full sack during the 2015 season and it came against Penn State. Even so, he gets to the edge quickly here and shows a little bit of bend and ankle flexibility on his way to the quarterback. He also uses his long inside arm well to keep himself separated from the tackle.

From a standing rush position, Ward gets and excellent push and pressure here on this play below as the pick man on an inside stunt. Once again, he uses those long arms of his in addition to nice leg drive. You would, however, like to see him disengage here and corral the quarterback.

I saw Ward double-teamed quite a bit in the three games that I watched of him with very inconsistent results. Here, against Ohio State, he drops anchor while taking on a combination inside zone block to make the tackle.

On this power trap play to his side, however, Ward allows himself to get turned and pushed out of the hole and that enables the running back a free lane to run through.

Summary: Ward certainly doesn’t jump off of the tape and he is a very inconsistent player. From one play to the next you don’t know what you are going to get out of him technique wise. It could be poor hand placement on one play or bad pad level on the next as he has a tendency to stand up at the snap of the football instead of firing off low. Being as he has such a large target area, interior linemen can gain access to his chest very easily when he comes off of the line straight up.

Ward is easily at his best against the run. When it comes to pass rushing, however, he has no real counter moves and that results in him easily being stalled at the line of scrimmage. While he is an athletic player for his size, he’s not quick at the snap nearly enough.

Ward will likely receive interest from 4-3 teams as a defensive tackle but his best spot in the NFL will likely be as a 3-4 defensive end that can play the 5, 4 and 3 technique. You can tell that he only played two years at Illinois after transferring from a junior college as he’s still very raw. While he has a nice set of tools to work with, he doesn’t know how to use them all properly and thus will need a lot of coaching from whatever team drafts him.

As far as where Ward will wind up being drafted, it’s really hard for me to say at this point because of him being the first defensive lineman that I have studied thoroughly. With that notated, I see him going in either the fourth or fifth round as we sit here in February. It won’t be surprising to see the Steelers take a long look at Ward at the combine and his pro day in addition to possibly bringing him to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.

Projection: 4th or 5th Round

Games Watched: at Iowa, at Penn State, vs Ohio State

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