Denzel Ward Profile | Ohio Sporting Stars

Denzel Ward Profile

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Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward attempts to tackle Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki

Denzel Ward is the starting cornerback for the Cleveland Browns, and the home-grown favorite signed a massive $100 million contract to stay on with his NFL side in 2022 for the next five years. It made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.

While Ward might be at a bit of a disadvantage because of his height - he’s just shy of 5’11 - he more than makes up for it with a tremendous amount of speed, power, and agility. Of course, height isn’t really a disadvantage when you can outrun the other team’s 6’5” receiver like he can - they don’t call him Denzel “Flash” Ward for nothing.

He’s an Ohio native who grew up in Macedonia and has grown from being his school’s star athlete to the Buckeyes star at Ohio State to signing a nine-figure contract with the Browns. Everyone who knows him speaks highly of his humility and attitude. The death of his father during his sophomore year of college had a significant impact on him, but he’s pushed on regardless to become one of the state’s most beloved athletes. 

He attaches vital importance to his roots - his philanthropic gestures over the years have included a donation to his high school football program and a foundation launched after his father’s death to raise awareness for heart disease. There’s no denying that Ward is a special player and continues to go from strength to strength. Let’s dive deep into what shaped him into the phenomenon he is today.

Star Athlete in High School

Denzel Ward was born on April 27, 1997, to Nicole and the late Paul Ward. He showed athletic ability from a young age, and his prowess made him stand out right from the time he was in high school.

Growing up in Macedonia, Ohio, he attended Nordonia High School. Ward’s school coach, Jeff Fox, saw massive potential in the polite, soft-spoken kid when he took over in 2012. Despite his athletic prowess - he was already an All-Ohio track star at the age of 15 and played basketball as well - Ward didn’t really have the stature of a conventional football player yet. 

In his sophomore year, he mostly played as a receiver for the Knights football team, often in the slot because he had to compete for his spot in the team. He started to focus on building size and bloomed into an imposing defensive player by the time he was in his junior year. Scout and 247Sports rated him a 4-star defensive prospect. 

Ward was committed to pursuing his football career in his home state and honed in on Ohio State before his final year of his school.

Ward was essential to his team’s defense unit by the time he was a junior, completing nine interceptions and 18 pass break-ups. He also pitched in on offense, covering over 1300 total yards and scoring 20 touchdowns. 

That year, the Knights surged to a 14-1 record and made it to the Division II State Championship Game but went down to Cincinnati LaSalle 55-20. Accolades came pouring in for the gifted cornerback - he was named Division II’s co-defensive player of the year. He earned a first-team selection for the All-Ohio Associated Press. called him the best defensive player of the year.

Ward’s athletic accomplishments in his senior year didn’t stop at football; he placed first in the 100-meter dash of Division 1 Region 1 Finals, running his best time of 10.49 seconds. He also finished third in the 200-meter sprint at the state championships.

He has much loyalty to his home state and alma mater, and he recently donated $10,000 to his high school’s football program on behalf of the NFL Foundation.

Success with the Ohio State Buckeyes

Ward’s prowess continued to grow when he joined Ohio State. In his freshman year, he played 12 games, recording seven total tackles. He made a much more significant impact in his sophomore year, getting 23 total tackles, 12 of them solo tackles, in the 13 games he appeared in.

He came into his own in junior year when he was made a starter for the Buckeyes. That year he recorded 30 solo tackles and 17 defended passes, including two interceptions across 14 games. Ward set a record with 17 passes defended, which is the fourth-highest by a player in a single season in the school’s history. In his first game starting in 2017, he made an immediate impression with four tackles, six passes defended, and one interception, instrumental in the Buckeyes taking down Indiana 49 - 21. 

One of Ward’s most memorable games with the Buckeyes was their famous 39-38 win over Penn State. When the Buckeyes were down by 15, War blocked the fourth-quarter punt, which was widely regarded as one of the biggest plays of the year. It led to a touchdown, and the Buckeyes scripted an incredible turnaround. Eighteen points later, the Ohio State Buckeyes had pulled off a win over the team ranked number two in the nation. 

Another hugely impressive game for Ward was the Buckeyes’ 31-20 win away from home at Michigan. He recorded eight tackles, and 2 passes defended and carried on in the same vein in their Big 10 Championship Game two weeks later against the Wisconsin Badgers.

It was the first time since 2014 that Ohio State would appear in the Championship game, and they went in brimming with confidence with a 10-2 overall record and an 8-1 conference record. They’d pulled off impressive victories over Penn State and Michigan and went in as favorites. Ward played his part with three tackles, plus three defended passes, including one interception, as the Buckeyes scrapped their way to a 27-21 win.

In 2016, Ward was struck by a personal tragedy. His father, Paul Ward, passed away unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest during a workout. Ward would later establish the “Make Them Know Your Name” Foundation. The foundation aims to raise awareness for heart-related fatalities and prevent early deaths through timely detection and intervention.

His great junior season in 2017 earned him consensus All-America honors and first-team all-Big Ten accolades. He was named in the AFCA’s first team, the AP First team, and the Sporting News First team, missing out on the Unanimous honors designation to Billy Price on account of making the FWAA’s second team. Ward was also listed as a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award.

Early Draft into the Cleveland Browns

Ward’s junior year was laden with accomplishments and accolades, and he made a bold call at the end of 2017 to forgo his senior season, opting to enter the 2018 NFL Draft instead. He also opted to sit out of the Cotton Super Bowl, resting instead and preparing for the draft.

He impressed the scouts when he appeared at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He completed most of the combine drills, skipping the short shuttle and three-cone drill and the general consensus was that he was the best cornerback prospect.

The only drawback was his height - 5’10 is not ideal on the defense, but he more than made up for it with his speed and agility. His high-school track record stood him in good stead - he covered the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds, and his 11’4’’ broad jump was the highest among all the players present.

The Cleveland Browns possessed the first and fourth picks in the 2018 draft, and Ward was drafted in the fourth. He was offered $29.16 million for a fully guaranteed four-year contract, which included a $19.29 million signing bonus. Ward became the fourth Ohio State cornerback to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in three years, following Marshon Lattimore’s selection in New Orleans and Gareon Conley to Oakland in 2017, and Eli Apple is going to the New York Giants in 2016. 

Ward was slated to be the number one starting cornerback pick on the depth chart when he entered training camp, and the Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson named him the starting cornerback alongside Terrance Mitchell to begin the regular season.

Impressive Rookie Season at the NFL

He made his debut with the Browns in their 2018 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, recording six total tackles and three broken passes, and also made two interceptions as the Browns tied the game 21-21. His first-ever career interception in the NFL was in the first quarter, coming off a pass attempt by the Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

In his first season with the Browns, Ward scored 53 tackles and defended 11 passes, along with three interceptions. Another memorable game in his debut season was the Browns’ 12-9 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens. 

He recorded five tackles in total, broke up three passes, made one interception, and blocked a field goal. This earned him the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and at the end of the season was also selected for the Pro Bowl and the NFL All-Rookie Team.

Ward kept up his form in 2019, though it wasn’t as groundbreaking as his rookie season. He recorded a total of 44 tackles, defending 11 passes as well as clocking two more interceptions. His first interception of the season came in week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals, claiming a pass thrown by Andy Dalton. He returned it, and the result was a 61-yard touchdown, setting up the Browns for a 27-19 win over the Bengals.

He added another two interceptions the following season to his career tally. In Week 4 of the 2020 season against the Dallas Cowboys, he intercepted a pass by Dak Prescott in the fourth quarter to help the Browns seal a 49-38 victory. A few weeks later, another impressive performance set the Browns up with a 22-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles - he broke four passes and made another later interception off a Carson Wentz Pass.

It was time for Ward’s four-year contract to expire in 2021, but the Browns had no intention of letting him go. They extended it to a fifth year, guaranteeing him a $13.29 million salary for the following season. It was another successful season - he recorded 43 tackles, and ten defended passes, equalling his career-best three interceptions in a season, which he’d managed in his rookie year in 2018. 

Arguably his best play of the season came against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9, where he intercepted a pass in the first quarter from Chase McLaughlin that ended up going 99 yards. For the second time in his NFL career history, he was named to the Pro Bowl.

Signs Massive 5-year Browns contract in 2022

Ward’s decision to stick with his home state has turned him into one of Ohio’s most beloved athletes. He took a call in April 2022 to continue with the Browns, signing a five-year contract valued at an incredible $100,500,000, making him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. This includes a $20 million signing bonus and $71.25 million guaranteed, and he’ll earn an average annual salary of $20.1 million.

A look at his stats up to that point shows why the Browns held on as tightly. He had over 50 pass breakups since being drafted in 2018, the seventh-highest in the league. Of those, 28 had been recorded after 2020 - once against the league’s seventh-best. Ward was fourth on the list of all-time pass breakups for the Browns, tied with Corey Fuller, early into the 2022 season. 

At the time of writing, he has recorded pass breakups in 14 games in his NFL career, which ties him for fifth best in the Browns’ history. At just 25, Ward had already played four seasons as starting cornerback for the Browns, and there’s no doubt he has a long and illustrious career ahead of him.

Profile Recap

Ward showed promise as an athlete right from the time he was in high school, where he was a state-level track star. His speed, agility, and strength impressed the college scouts, and he opted to stay in his own state, pursuing his degree at the Ohio State University. He found plenty of success with the Buckeyes and in his junior year, was part of the squad that won the Championship Game.

An early draft into the NFL saw him skip his senior year season at college, and Ward never looked back, making an impact right from his rookie season onwards. He has already recorded three interceptions per season twice now and has been named to the Pro Bowl both times. In 2022, Ohio’s sweetheart signed a 100.5 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns to become the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL’s history.

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