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


– 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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  • Luc Polglaze

    Good stuff Dave. I watched a bit of his tape after hearing he was blowing up at the Senior Bowl, and I must say I was a little underwhelmed. He gets blown off the ball in the run game (just because of inconsistencies) and he doesn’t really have the bend to play more outside.

    Honestly, he feels like the kind of guy who’d shine at practices where he doesn’t have to pass rush with a plan and can flash that raw power, but struggles in game situations when rushing in tandem with others.

  • PittsburghSports

    I think 4th rd is a solid projection, but with the Steelers drafting in the 25th spot, I would also think we might need to take him in rd 3 if we wanted him. The tape doesn’t overwhelm you, but he certainly stood out at Senior Bowl practices among a very deep class of defensive lineman. You have to wonder if coaching will help develop his pass rushing skills, or he’s just going to be a run stopper.

    The reason I like Ward so much is because the depth of 34/245 DEs(as well as edge rushers) seems lacking in this draft. I don’t think there’s too many guys in this draft you can project to play 80-90% of the snaps like Heyward and Tuitt do with the majority of those snaps coming in the 245 Nickel. It’s incredible what those 2 provide for our defense, and I don’t think that’s changing any time soon. Alex stated in his defensive charting that the Steelers D spent 71.3% of the time in their Nickel/Dime defenses, and that increased to 85.5% in the playoffs! Tomlin is on record basically saying the reason Heyward and Tuitt are out there as much, is because the other defensive lineman don’t deserve to be. Beside Safety, I think finding a defender that can play on the defensive line in the Nickel/Dime is the 2nd most important thing the team needs to do this off season. I’m guessing other teams in the NFL that also play the 34/245 Defenses are having trouble finding players like this too. Because of that I could see teams falling in love with Ward and him going a lot higher in the draft than most expect. I don’t even think there’s another player in the draft with his body type and measurables. If he can’t rush the passer that certainly makes him less desirable though. Personally, I think he’s going to grow into a solid player.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    Thanks Dave. I think the Steelers will definitely be looking at DL in this draft. If they don’t re-sign McClendon, I think they will be looking at NT’s, but I think they will re-sign him and will look at DE, but not in the first or second rounds. Later-round guys like Dean Lowery Northwestern, Joel Heath Michigan State, or Delvon Simmons USC could be guys they would look at. I also like Adam Gotsis at Georgia Tech, but he was hurt at the end of October (knee injury) and I’m not sure of his current status.

  • Jeremy McClurg

    Jihad Ward has a lot of the stuff the Steelers like in a 5 technique guy. Don’t be surprised if they pick him up in the 4th or 5th, because we need DL depth, and no player helps DL depth better then a 5 tech guy that can play the nose and off of the end.
    Players I’d Like to see you do next:
    Noah Spence
    Kyler Fackrell
    Victor Ochi
    Maurice Canady
    James Bradburry
    Deiondre Hall

  • steelburg

    There interest in him surprises me because of the guys they already have on there roster. Ward is very similar to Caushaud Lyons who is 1 year invested with the team. Same thing with L.T. Walton not nearly as athletic as Ward is but probably a little more polished with a better motor. I’m a fan of guys with that motor label attached to there name I think that is a trait like speed that can’t be taught. And Ward and Lyons have a motor that runs hot and cold at times unlike Waltons motor.

  • steelburg

    I don’t agree read my comment below. And they don’t have a 5th round pick.

  • steelburg

    Not sure how he is any different from Caushaud Lyons who is signed to a future deal and has a year of work with the team and in their system. I hope they dont us a 4th rounder on him.

  • Michael James

    Development prospect and I think the Steelers would like to take a player, who can contribute early, so he’s not on my watchlist for now. We have similar players in Walton and Lyons, so I think if we go after a DL, it would be on day one or two.

  • PittsburghSports

    Do you know anything about Caushaud Lyons? Cause I don’t, so not sure I could even answer that.

  • CP72

    Rotoworld has him ranked as the 32nd best prospect on their top 50 board…yikes!!

    For me it’s the old Brad Pitt Moneyball line..”if he’s such a good hitter why doesn’t he hit good”.

  • LucasY59

    Agree, need someone they feel comfortable enough to start rotating in ASAP, a developmental guy might take a yr or two (and like you said they already have a couple of those) one of the Bama guys are who I think have a realistic shot if they are available (they could be BPA in the 1st, and if somehow one makes it to the 2nd pick its almost an automatic decision to take him then, Tuitt made it to the 2nd a few yrs ago, moreso because of an injury that impacted his play that season, but there is enough talent in this draft that a really good DL could make it all the way to the Steelers pick)

  • CP72

    Ochi is really interesting…round 3-4 maybe? He was dominant at the Shrine game. Maybe take some time to develop, but has some guys in front of him to allow that.

  • PittsburghSports

    Checked out some of those guys. Most seem like 7th rd to UDFA players. Heath looked interesting though, with how Mich St used him. Lowery seems more like a 43 DE. Gotsis seems like the best prospect, but can’t find any tape on him.

  • LucasY59

    The thing about a good motor is that if they are rotated in (keeping the tank full) they can go all out for a series (which can help them make an impact even if they are less talented or skilled) and then take a series or two off and do it again.

    Heyward said they were getting worn down and some rotational help would be a really good thing (The two Stud DE’s had a ton of snaps this yr, even getting one of them off every third series or so would be a good way to keep all those big guys from running out of gas in the 4th qtr)

    *I dont remember anyone breaking down the 4th qtr D this yr, but from memory they gave up more points than you would like to see and let some teams back into games that shouldve been over (the two playoff games for sure, and since they are the most recent in memory it stands out to me, not sure if it was a trend the whole season though)

  • PittsburghSports

    Yeah I was hoping he’d get a Senior Bowl invite too. Have no idea how the league views him.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    Unfortunately, the Steeler don’t have a 5th or 6th round pick in the upcoming draft and I don’t see them drafting one in the first or second rounds. There aren’t really many guys with the size they like in the 3rd or 4th rounds for them. They could pick up a veteran DL in free agency, which would help. I think Gotsis would have been a 4th or 5th rounder, if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Thanks.

  • steelburg

    Not sure why this site won’t allow me to post where I found information on Lyons. But search his name there is plenty of stuff on him film and all. Lyons might even be a little more athletic then Ward he ran a 4.86 40 at his pro day. He is a very similar player to Ward.

  • steelburg

    You will get no arguments from me about a good healthy rotation to help spell Tuitt and Heyward. I just think that they already have those guys in house with Walton, Lyons and possibly Mclendon.

  • PittsburghSports

    Probably cause it’s a hack site that they feel has less than reliable info lol. I can only find highlight reels of Lyons. Not interested in that. Says he has basic hand use, needs to learn how to punch, no pass rushing moves, gets too high and has an inconsistent motor. Of course that’s only the negatives lol. Seriously though, he was hanging on by a thread on the practice squad all year.

  • steelburg

    If they are hack sites I have seen this site use them as a reference on multiple occasions. NFL Draft Scout and NFL Draft Profile. I use a highlight reel to get a visual of the player in action. Lyons, Walton, and Ward are all developmental players. Lyons, and Walton would be ahead of Ward IMO strictly because they have been around this team for a full year, I don’t expect any to make a huge impact. The way you were talking about Ward would lead someone to think he is a instant impact player when in reality he will fall in the same category as Lyons and Walton which is a developmental guy with good potential. IMO that would be a wasted pick considering they have 2 guys who are Ward’s caliber if not better.

  • LucasY59

    I think it is very possible those guys could help, but with the talent available there is a good chance they add a rookie also (and like you I like Waltons motor over Wards potential)

  • steelburg

    I also think they could add a rookie. But I think if they add one it will be a guy in the first 2 rounds not another late round developmental guy like Ward.

  • LucasY59

    Ward makes me think of Rasheed Haggeman from the Draft a couple yrs ago, except Haggeman had even more freakish size and athleticism, same issues with inconsistencies.

    Dont want a guy that will be a rotational player to have motivation issues, want a guy that will give it all he’s got every snap (and since they are rotating in the next time he gets in he will be able to go 100% again because he will be rested up)

  • LucasY59

    In the PC era it might offend someone, but his name just makes me think of Team America…gonna cast a jihad on you…derka derka

  • PittsburghSports

    I dunno man unless I see a scout actually breaking down tape I don’t listen to a thing they say. That’s why twitter is great cause they’ll actually post vids and give their opinions while they’re scouting guys. Some of those sites just list players and give a description and you have no clue how they’re coming to that conclusion.

    I never said a word about instant impact either, so not sure why you’re going there. I said he stood out at the Senior Bowl and I hope coaching can improve his pass rushing ability. I also said the reason I like him was basically a lack of depth overall in the draft class. I think 3rd-4th rd based on what I’m hearing from people that project that stuff. That’s it. Walton was a 6th rd guy, and Lyons went undrafted. Just because Ward needs time doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in the same category as those two.

  • LucasY59

    posting from other sites = spam

    no spam, thank you (not that your link would be spam, just some other robo post-er would be spamming)

  • Matt Manzo

    Is it safe to say that we are, indeed, looking for pass rushers? At OLB and DE? Or is there room for just a run stuffer?

  • jujudoublestuff

    Dave, any of you guys have anything coming on DL C. Jones from MIss St and Adam Gotsis from G. Tech? We need some DE depth, I’d welcome Ward.

  • steelburg

    Searching a players name along with NFL Draft Profile is the most accurate as far as breaking down a players strengths and weaknesses. Walton was projected to be a 5th round pick and Lyons was projected to be a 6-7th rounder. Ward at best IMO is a 5th rounder. He has talent but this is a deep class and there are a lot of other players that are better. At this point whatever edge you think Ward has over Walton and Lyons is eliminated IMO because Lyons and Walton have a whole vest with the team. The fact that they all need time to develop put them in the same category there abilities may be different but I think they all need about the same amount of time with this team to be contributors.

  • PittsburghSports

    so you’re saying Lance Zierlein is the most accurate scout there is?

  • steelburg

    No I’m saying that whoever does the breakdowns for NFL .Com they are better than the majority that I have seen over the past few years.

  • PittsburghSports

    lol I like Lance. He’s good. usually does most of NFL dot coms write ups.

  • mokhkw

    Jihad Ward – No mean streak.

    Funny. 🙂

  • Ask Questions Later

    Seems to me like he is a slightly more athletic LT Walton.