BEREA — Secondary was a priority for Browns general manager John Dorsey this offseason.
It remained a primary focus on draft night.
Adding three corners and a safety apparently wasn’t enough, Cleveland spent the fourth overall pick — its second of the first round — on Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, keeping the Macedonia native in his home state.
“It’s amazing,” Ward said. “It’s a blessing. It’s been my childhood dream to get here to the NFL Draft and to be drafted by the Browns and go back to my hometown and play there is just a blessing. I’m so excited to get there and get to work.”
The Browns acquired free safety Damarious Randall in a trade with Green Bay. They then signed corners TJ Carrie, Terrance Mitchell and E.J. Gaines in an attempt to shore up a defense that ranked 19th in passing yards allowed with just seven interceptions — only Oakland had fewer, with five.
Browns general manager John Dorsey said Ward brings the skills necessary to make an impact.
“Denzel Ward is a really good player,” Dorsey said. “I like the ability of him being able to play in this defense where we need shutdown corners. He has the speed, he has the athleticism, he has the ball skills. The way they were teaching him at Ohio State, sometimes they were telling him to play the man instead of tracking the ball. Once he gets that understood he’s going to be a really, really good football player.”
From the looks of it, he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m very confident in my ability and I look forward to that pressure,” Ward said. “Being at Ohio State, there’s pressure all the time. It’s nothing new having pressure on me, and I look forward to taking on that challenge and seeing what I can do at the next level.”
Ward has been a fixture at Ohio State since he set foot on campus in 2015 — first on special teams. By his sophomore season, he cracked a cornerback rotation that featured two first-round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft — Marshon Lattimore, 11th overall to New Orleans, and Gareon Conley, 24th overall to Oakland. Safety Malik Hooker was also drafted 15th overall to the Colts.
It’s safe to say Ward picked up right where those standouts left off. His 17 passes defended in 2017 were the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. He also piled up 15 breakups and two interceptions.
At 5-foot-11, his height is not ideal for some, but Ward said he makes up for it in other ways. His 4.32-second 40-yard dash tied for the fastest at the combine.
“Definitely my speed, but it’s all about timing,” Ward said. “Even though I may not be the ideal size or height that some people would like, it’s all about timing. … I’d say I have the natural instincts to find the ball and play through the receiver’s hands.”
Cleveland elected not to double down on the defensive line, passing on N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb, who was considered by some to be the best overall prospect in the draft. Chubb was selected fifth overall by the Broncos.
Dorsey said the Browns went with Ward because he feels he will be able to play effectively in Gregg Williams’ defense. He added that while Cleveland had about a half dozen trade offers for the No. 4 pick, they did not outweigh the value of selecting a player like Ward.