With the 134th pick in the 2023 NFL draft, the Vikings selected Jay Ward, CB/S, from LSU. Ward was the 179th ranked player on the industry consensus board and the 14th ranked safety.
The Vikings held the 119th pick entering Day 3 of the draft but elected to trade down to the 134th pick with the Kansas City Chiefs, acquiring a 2024 fifth-round pick from the Chiefs as compensation.
Ward has generally good traits for a cornerback (similar for a safety at 6.70 overall) apart from his agility tests, which were poor. Ward is 22 years old. Ward compares similarly but favorably in RAS to Brian Branch, the top NCB/S prospect in the draft, who was ranked 16th on the consensus board and was drafted 45th overall.
Ward started 13 games at LSU at safety, six at slot cornerback, and four at outside cornerback. He also had two blocked field goals on special teams. He led LSU in passes defensed in 2020 and in interceptions in 2021.
PFF Profile and Stats
Below are a few of the top media scouting reports on Jay Ward.
Dane Brugler, The Athletic
BACKGROUND: Je’Dacus “Jay” Ward, who is the middle child of three boys, was born and raised in Moultrie (about an hour north of Tallahassee). He attended Colquitt County High School where he was a three-year varsity letterman as a defensive back. Ward became a full-time starter as a junior and registered 46 tackles, 12 passes defended, four interceptions and one forced fumble. As a senior, he led Colquitt County to a 14-1 record with the only loss coming in the 2018 7A state championship game. Ward finished his final season with 67 tackles, 15 passes defended, six interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and one forced fumble, earning All-American, all-state and all-conference honors. He posted 11 career interceptions and also blocked four field goals and a punt. Ward played baseball at Colquitt County as an underclassman and joined the track team as a junior. He set personal bests in the 100 meters (11.54), high jump (6 feet 4 inches), long jump (20’9) and triple jump (45’7).
A three-star recruit, Ward was the No. 50 cornerback in the 2019 class and the No. 54 recruit in Georgia. Although not considered a top-500 recruit nationally, he received several high-profile offers from programs such as Florida State, Ohio State and Texas A&M. After his junior year, Kentucky became his first offer, and he committed to the Wildcats in the summer before his senior year. However, he decommitted in November 2018 after several new offers arrived, including one from LSU, the team he grew up supporting. On national signing day, his family and friends expected him to choose Kentucky, but LSU was able to flip him the night before, and he signed with the Tigers. His older brother (Johnny) was a four-year starting defensive back at South Florida (2013-16). His younger brother (Jaheim) is a rising sophomore defensive back at FCS Austin Peay. Ward accepted his invitation to the 2023 Senior Bowl.
STRENGTHS: Good body length … flashes burst in his mirror movements on man-cover reps … above-average range that is expanded even further with his high-effort style to chase down plays from different angles on the field … displays natural ball skills to find and attack passing lanes … plays with the competitive chops to charge downhill and attack blocks … targets the hip and belt buckle of ball carriers on tackle attempts … blocked two field goals in his career (blocked four field goals in high school) … served as the leader of the LSU defense … one of the more versatile defensive backs in the class with starting experience at cornerback, safety and nickel.
WEAKNESSES: Thinly-built with below-average play strength … misses too many tackles because of technique and finishing issues (see 2022 Florida State and Auburn tapes) … will go for the jarring hit or strip, allowing the ball carrier to slip out of his grasp … concedes too much route space and needs to play more situationally aware, especially at the sticks … often arrives at the ball without full control of his body, leading to penalties (three pass interference penalties and three personal fouls in 2022) … suffered a torn meniscus during 2020 fall camp and required surgery.
SUMMARY: A three-year starter at LSU, Ward played all over the secondary in defensive coordinator Matt House’s scheme. He split his 23 starts for the Tigers at safety (13 starts), slot cornerback (6) and outside cornerback (4) and was described as the “glue” of the defense. There is a fine line between versatile and tweener, and NFL scouts are split on which side of the fence Ward falls. He is coordinated in coverage with cornerback ball skills, but he lacks high-end athleticism and anticipation in space. Though he is more than willing in run support, his marginal strength leads to matchup opportunities for tight ends and missed tackles. Overall, Ward has strong football character and takes pride running alleys and crowding catch points, but his tweener traits create position/scheme fit questions. Despite being listed as a safety, he is more of a true nickel and special-teamer.
GRADE: 5th Round
Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
Versatile defensive back with a fearless playing mentality. Ward has good size and length for a nickel cornerback, but he lacks a little thickness as a safety who likes to hit. He can be counted on to do his job in run support from the slot and has adequate coverage talent from off-man and zone. He will make plays when he’s in position to do so but doesn’t have the route anticipation needed for strong on-ball production just yet. Ward takes good angles to the football in coverage and run support as a safety. His versatility improves his chances of becoming an NFL starter in the future.
- Respected at LSU for his leadership and toughness.
- Offers positional versatility at nickel and safety.
- Size and length to obstruct the catch point.
- Pounces and tackles quickly after the catch.
- No hesitation to fly downhill and make a play.
- Pursues with urgency and at proper angles.
- Attacks and plays off the block to tackle.
- Special teams talent with two blocked kicks in his career.
- Frame doesn’t fully match his ferocity.
- Needs to play with better high/low balance from zone.
- Will peek into backfield and lose track of coverage.
- Is a step slow to anticipate and match the route break.
- Drew seven penalty flags in 2022, per PFF.
- Gets caught between hitting and wrapping at times.
- Could use more upper body strength for run support duties.
Sources Tell Us
“He is an absolute dude. He’s the guy who people listened to on that defense. Worst-case scenario, he will be a great special teams guy.” — Regional scout for AFC team
Keith Sanchez, Draft Network
Jay Ward is a senior defensive back prospect who made the transition from corner, where he saw his first action as a collegiate player, to safety. Ward has been the leader of an LSU defense that has been in constant transition over the last three years—three defensive coordinators in three years. Ward’s leadership is felt through his play on the field as he is a high-motor, maximum-effort player that is willing to put his body on the line on any given play.
Although Ward is a former cornerback, against the run from the safety position he has a physical presence in that he makes full-speed collisions with ball carriers. Ward does a good job of closing from distance to make plays at or near the line scrimmage. Ward also does a good job of disputing quick plays like screens by quickly shedding blockers and getting to the ball carrier. Ward plays with a physical presence that outweighs his actual size and body profile.
In pass coverage, Ward shows to be an instinctive player in zone. He has multiple interceptions where he did a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes to the receiver and made the interception. Ward has good range roaming the deeper portions of the field and is a player that can play as the deep FS. In man-to-man situations, Ward does a good job of being technically sound and closing to receivers to make the tackle or deflect the pass.
The concerns for Ward come from his slight frame and his ability to stay healthy playing the safety position. Ward is a former corner and his frame is leaner than a traditional safety. On those full-speed collisions, Ward ends up absorbing more of the blow. Throughout his career, Ward has had injuries directly related to high-impact collisions. Ward is a physical player that doesn’t necessarily have the frame to support his style. To help sustain his career and remain healthy, Ward could benefit from changing his tackling technique to be less violent.
Top Reasons to Buy In:
- Positional versatility
- Good run/pass play recognition
- High motor
Top Reasons For Concern:
- Missed tackles
- Lower-body tightness
- Frame to constantly absorb high-impact plays
Grade: 74.50/100 (Fourth-round value)
Jay Ward vs. Mississippi State (2022)
Jay Ward vs. Auburn (2021)
Jay Ward vs. Texas A&M (2021)
Jay Ward’s Fit with the Vikings
Ward has been described as a leader of the LSU defense, the “glue” of their defense, and the guy people listened to on defense, so there are some intangibles Ward brings beyond his stats. Vikings’ defensive backs coach Daronte Jones was the defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach at LSU in 2021, and that connection undoubtedly was a key factor in Ward being drafted by the Vikings.
Versatility is the name of Ward’s game, as he’s had at least 300 snaps at every defensive back position during his college career. Brian Flores values versatility, and Ward could serve as a backup at both the slot corner and safety positions. Ward could also be used as a ‘dime’ defender, as Flores occasionally uses dime packages with six defensive backs in his defensive scheme. Ward’s experience at every defensive back position makes him an ideal candidate for that role. His ability as a run defender also makes him a good fit as offensive counters to Flores’ blitz-heavy scheme often include quick pitches or screens outside to avoid the blitz while forcing defensive backs to make tackles.
Ward could also be a big contributor on special teams, perhaps taking on a gunner/vise role on the outside in kick/punt return/coverage units, and also on field goal defense units. Ward had a couple blocked field goals at LSU.
Success for Ward in his rookie year would be contributing as a core special teamer with occasional dime back or spot defensive back snaps in sub-packages.
What level will Jay Ward reach in the NFL?
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Top ten in his position
Above average starter
Below average starter
He won’t be a starter