The Oakland Raiders have their attention turned towards the upcoming NFL Draft as free agency has begun. However, evaluating the young players on the roster will be critical for efficiently attacking needs during the draft and free agency.
For instance, what do the Raiders have in second round pick Jihad Ward? The 22-year-old saw extensive time in the beginning of his rookie season. As soon as the team drafted him, there was hype surrounding Ward and his athleticism. Ward recorded a 56.7 athletic grade at the NFL Combine last season. It should also be pointed that he had questionable knee health when he entered the league.
Still, the Raiders drafted him in the second round last year. Ward has $701,809 entering his second season. The defensive player signed a four-year, $3.38 million deal as a rookie, per Over the Cap. Read the scouting report below, which is based on more than five games of tape from the defensive end’s rookie season in Oakland.
What he can do
To begin, Ward is a great athlete with great size, length, short-area quickness and explosiveness for the defensive end position. He has solid play speed due to natural athleticism on get off paired with questionable mental processing. Ward uses great agility and explosiveness to make up for lapses in technique. He showed solid competitive toughness as he competed at multiple positions for Oakland in 2016.
The d-lineman showcases good upfield burst with natural quickness and explosiveness on his first step. Ward is a good run defender who uses solid hands and length to separate and find the ball. Additionally, he uses good footwork to beat blockers to the gap versus zone blocks. Ward can maintain free outside shoulder as an edge defender versus stretch blocks. He is solid in pursuit because he can use natural speed to accelerate to the ball once he finds the ball. Ward will use a solid motor to chase the ball even if he is out of position. He can also diagnose and react to draws and screens well.
As a pass rusher, his good upfield burst will beat lesser defenders off of the ball. Ward can use upfield burst to catch blockers out off balance in the pass rush. He showcases strength and discipline in his pass rush lane as an outside and inside rusher. Solid lateral movement can help him get to his assignment as the twister.
What needs improvement
First, the rookie end can give away his assignment in his stance too many times. Also, visibly wore down when playing extensive snaps. He did not gain any impact in big situations, and he sat out many key defensive situations.
Otherwise, Ward can play out of control. He will over-pursue due to great athleticism but adequate mental processing.
Versus the run, Ward’s shows adequate play strength as he will get driven back as a three-technique tackle on base blocks due to his anchor. Ward also lacks one-on-one strength at the point-of-attack to penetrate and stalemate versus the run. His adequate mental processing speed and instincts will lose the ball on run and pass. Ward can have bad hand placement, timing, and leverage versus longer and more aggressive blockers in the run and pass. He stays on blocks too long, due to limited technique. He can lack the coordination and strength to navigate and keep his feet through traffic.
Moreover, Ward is an adequate pass rusher who will find himself out of position due to a lack of awareness. He will get pushed out of position due as he lacks lean, strength and hands to maintain his pass rush lane. Ward lacks good pass rush plan as he will go to the spin move too early. He is adequate at closing on the ball. He can lose leverage and pad level when twisting.
Jihad Ward can be a good run defender as a five or six technique defensive end. He will thrive in any scheme that utilizes his length, speed, and run defense on the edge. Ward has the athleticism, upfield burst and length to be an every down starting end. He needs to improve his strength, conditioning, and mental processing to become a more consistent player. He must also develop better pass rushing technique and instincts to stay on the field for critical pass rushing downs.
Otherwise, Pro Football Focus rated Ward as the worst interior defender in the NFL with 37.7 grade for the season. Thus, Ward has a lot to improve.
See what the Raiders do in the years NFL Draft and stay posted for Jihad Ward’s improvement in his second season.
[Image by Ben Margot/AP Images]