Usually, a former second-round pick entering his third year has heavy expectations. But for Defensive Tackle Jihad Ward, moving teams in a mid-draft trade has cost him some cache. Should the 24-year-old be getting more attention as part of the Cowboys defensive line?
Ward was the 44th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, taken just 10 spots after Dallas Linebacker Jaylon Smith. Some of the players taken shortly after Ward, such as Saints Receiver Michael Thomas or Falcons LB Deion Jones, have already been to a Pro Bowl.
Jihad’s two years in Oakland were ruined by injuries. He missed much of the offseason program his rookie year with a knee issue, though he was still active in all 16 games. A foot problem in 2017 cost him all but five games, though he did record his first and only NFL sack last year.
Last April, Dallas sent WR Ryan Switzer to the Raiders in exchange for Ward. Clearly, the Cowboys remembered him from that 2016 draft and Rod Marinelli thinks there’s potential to unlock.
Even with their seeming logjam at receiver, Dallas still had plenty of reason to value Switzer. He appears to have the makings of a top return specialist, and his offensive game could have been a nice replacement if Cole Beasley leaves in free agency next year.
That the Cowboys moved Ryan to pick up Jihad Ward says something about the defensive tackle and what the team thinks he could become.
At 6’5″ and around 300 lbs., Ward has the size to play inside but is also quite athletic. He should be used in various ways and could take over as the 1-technique tackle, allowing Maliek Collins to slide back over into his more comfortable 3-tech role.
In fact, Collins is a great example of why we should be paying more attention to Jihad Ward. They were taken in the same draft class, only Maliek went a round later. And look at the impact he’s made in his first two years.
Ward was a raw talent in that draft class, having converted from receiver and safety to the defensive line while still in college. And nobody processes raw talent better than Defensive Coordinator and d-line guru Rod Marinelli.
There will be competition for playing time in Dallas with Collins, David Irving, and Tyrone Crawford already established. But with Irving currently dealing with personal problems and reportedly not being in great shape, could Jihad get more opportunities to move up the chain?
Of course, the same health issues that hampered Ward in Oakland could follow him to Dallas. But right now the young tackle is healthy and hopefully in a much better position to compete and capitalize on his potential.
Time will tell what Jihad Ward really is, and perhaps we’ll see why the Raiders didn’t mind letting him go. But as we focus on young talent in this week’s minicamp and in next month’s full training camp, this former second-round pick should be getting way more attention.
He just might be one of the most talented young prospects on the Cowboys defense.