We are now in the dull period for being an NFL fan as we enter the post-draft time period of the offseason. While most people are looking ahead to the 2019 NFL season, I decided to take a step back and really evaluate the talent on this Colts’ roster. Over the course of this offseason, I will be going back through the roster and putting together scouting reports and film rooms of some of the more unheralded players on this roster.
The first player we are going to look at is talented defensive tackle Jihad Ward. The Colts surprised many of us by deciding to not select a defensive tackle in this past draft. With the departure of Al Woods in free agency and Hassan Ridgeway through a trade, the opportunity is there for Ward to get some serious playing time in his second year with the team.
So how good was Ward in limited snaps in 2018? I provide my scouting report for the former 2nd round pick in this article along with looking at some film and describing some of the things I saw in my scouting report.
6’5” 297 pounds
40 Time: 5.07 / Bench Press: 20 Reps / Vertical Jump: 28 inches / Broad Jump: 111 inches / 3-Cone: 7.38 seconds
Career Stats (College):
104 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles in two seasons at Illinois.
Career Stats (Pro):
36 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 17 QB hits, and 4 sacks in three seasons in the NFL.
My scouting reports will be in the same style/format as the Anthony Arena Draft Guide that we put together this offseason. I will be looking at how these players grade out in each trait, their best positional fit, and a two-three year outlook on their career.
Ward’s awareness is decent but rather unremarkable. He does an excellent job however of keeping his head up when rushing the passer and is very aware when sifting through traffic and locating the quarterback late in his rush. His instincts could be much better in run defense as he does get run out of his lanes a ton but I do like his overall awareness in staying square and following the QB when rushing the passer.
Here is what I mean with keeping his eyes up and on the quarterback. He gets this sack on Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold by keeping his head up and diagnosing where the escape route is in the pocket. Great awareness and ability to diagnose the play.
Despite not measuring as a great athlete at the combine many years ago, this may the best part of his game. He is a tad undersized as he appears to be in the high 280s to low 290s on film but this makes him a much smoother athlete and a better fit in this defense. His first step is one of his best traits and he is very fluid in his overall movement skills. He also does a great job in the stunts and twists that the Colts ask their defenders to do.
Here is a great clip showing off his burst and strength. He is able to get a great jump off of the snap and get his hand inside the pads of guard Shawn Lauvao. He drives the guard back into the pocket before tossing him to the ground and hitting the quarterback. His strength and athleticism have certainly become major positives in his game.
His tackling is a bit inconsistent. He struggled a few times last year to bring down ball carriers when he had a free shot at them. He missed a few sack opportunities as well due to missed tackles, notably a few bad misses on Deshaun Watson in the game against them. He must improve his tackling overall to convert more of the opportunities he creates with his athleticism and pass rush prowess.
His tackling does need some improvement. He misses this potential sack here on Watson when he had him lined up perfectly. Although the play does still end up in a sack, I’d like to see Ward finish off these plays better in the future.
I already mentioned earlier that Ward does a great job of keeping his head up while rushing the passer and that awareness is the reason why he got two of his three sacks last year. He does have an excellent bull rush move as well though. He is very strong as a rusher and that strength combined with his athleticism does make him an intriguing pass rusher. He also has an excellent motor and is relentless in his pursuit of the passer.
This clip is a bit similar to the one earlier in this piece but again it shows off his upside. He has a powerful bull rush and a quick first step off of the line and those two attributes culminated in this sack. He has the traits to be a very good pass rusher.
This area is his biggest weakness by far. The Colts rarely played Ward on base downs but on the rare occasion that he did get the snaps, he struggled. He lost a bit of weight to add speed in the NFL and as a result he does struggle to hold up at the point of attack. He gets driven out of the hole by double teams and even guards in one on one blocks move him fairly easy. This is the area that he needs to improve upon most going into year four in the NFL.
His run defense needs to be much better if he wants to play more snaps in the NFL or eventually become an every down starter. On one of his few run down snaps last year, he gets taken out of the hole which led to a huge gain for the Jets. He needs to be stronger at the point of attack and improve this part of his game.
Another area where he needs to improve a bit. The flashes last season were great and he did a great job of making plays in his six games with the Colts. To make the jump to being a real solid rotational player on this team though, he needs to add consistency to his game. He was excellent in the games against the Redskins and Jets but struggled in other games. Even in his best games, he had peaks and valleys in his game. He has to find more consistency going forward.
I’d like to see him have less empty rushes going forward. He had a great game against the Jets but had far too many rushes where he didn’t use his hands and was held up fairly easily at the line of scrimmage. Eliminating plays like this where he has little impact is the next step in his game. Even if he isn’t beating his man, he has to find a way to impact the play whenever he is in the game.
The best fit for him in this defense is as the rotational 3-tech behind Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis. He did play a little bit of the 1-tech last season as well but I think subbing in as a 3 is a much better use of his talents. From there, he could use his athleticism and pass rush ability to beat the guard one on one rather than having to gap contain on the interior.
Ward is a talented player who could very well be a starter for an NFL team some day. My biggest area of concern though is his run defense. Unless his run defense can improve, he will likely be a sub rusher specifically on passing downs. With his athleticism and relentless motor, he should be a good sub player on a defensive line for years. Hopefully he is able to take the next step with a full offseason and learning from a good coach in Mike Phair this season and is able to improve his future outlook from key reserve to potential starter.