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Better Know a Freshman: Jay Ward

Another long corner for Corey Raymond to utilize.

image courtesy of Geaux 24/7

Corey Raymond came into the 2019 class knowing cornerback would be a primary need. It became even more apparent in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl against UCF when once-wide receiver Mannie Netherly was seeing significant playing time in the secondary. Raymond had already signed Derek Stingley to replace the departing Greedy Williams and nabbed Raydarious Jones (his article is coming soon) and Cordale Flott (recently profiled) to provide depth in December. However, it wouldn’t be a National Signing Day without Raymond having one more trick up his sleeve.

The Story

Jay Ward committed to Kentucky in the summer before his senior season, and things went to near silence with his recruitment. No offers followed, no visits were taken for months...until LSU offered him in October, giving the three-star cornerback something to think about when he thought it was over. A couple weeks later, Ward was de-committing from the Wildcats and things were back on. His recruitment sped up as he saw offers come in from Ohio State and Florida State, along with a visit to the Florida Gators.

An official visit to Baton Rouge caused a seismic shift in momentum for the Tigers. LSU jumped out to a lead, but the Seminoles cranked up their efforts while Kentucky did not want to be left at the altar. The Seminoles received an official visit the weekend before National Signing Day, causing reason for pause, but a couple days later the fax was in to LSU and Raymond had pulled one more rabbit out of his hat.

The Numbers

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Rating: ***

247 Composite Ranking: .8801

There’s a correlation between Ward’s play on the field his senior season and the attention he started receiving from the powerhouses. Ward started his season ranked No. 939, but by the end of December, he had risen up to No. 529 before settling in on his final No. 544 ranking, a bump of nearly 400 spots. That is just crazy to do in the span of one season. Some of that may be attributed to the analysts not getting enough film beforehand, but as you’ll see, his play was beyond justified for the rise.

The Film

If you saw the article on Cordale Flott (if you haven’t, why not? I worked hard on it), you would see two defensive styles in his highlights compared to Ward. Where Flott is more up on the line as a press cover, Ward is used in more of a zone scheme. The thing that immediately jumps out to me is the burst Ward shows out of his breaks in coverage. He does a great job of keeping his receiver and the quarterback in his sight line, allowing him to break on the ball with a quicker response time. The result is several interceptions and a lot of pass breakups. I think he has the length to move up to the line of scrimmage if he can add some weight to his frame, which is to be expected.

It takes a little while into the video, but you see Ward is not afraid to bring the hammer despite his light frame. Like I mentioned earlier about his sight lines, he uses that on running plays to get past the blocking wide receiver and make plays at the line before it can develop.

The Future

Like I mentioned in the Flott article (which you have read by now, right?), this group of Flott, Ward and Raydarious Jones might be landlocked when it comes to a starting spot. Stingley comes in to take the spot left by Greedy, and barring something unforeseen, Elias Ricks will be arriving in Baton Rouge in December to succeed the graduating Kristian Fulton. Where Ward will have an advantage over the others to see playing time sooner is on longer passing downs. That zone defense he played in high school will come in handy for him to be better prepared for those opportunities.

High End: Ward continues to progress at the level he did in high school, giving Elias Ricks a run for his money next season, and earning significant playing time.

Low End: The other corners in this class play a little better than Ward and he gets caught up in the depth chart shuffle, but I would still expect to see him out there.

Realisitic: Again, like I mentioned with Flott, there have been several LSU corners over the past decade that have found NFL careers despite not being a starter, but in Ward’s case, it’s not due to a lack of personal talent. The logjam may be tough to overcome, but Ward seems to be on the right track to be a significant player.