The NFL Draft is a time of excitement, hope, and anticipation of new beginnings. However, it’s also a time of stress and hysteria. The pressures on the young players about to make their dreams of a professional career playing football are undeniably immense.
Since the very beginning, Ohio State standout cornerback Denzel Ward has felt this burden. Ward is the last of a particularly dominant defensive back unit that formerly consisted of now-pro starters Eli Apple (Giants), Marshon Lattimore (Saints), Gareon Conley (Raiders), and Malik Hooker (Colts). He also might be the best player out of the group.
Although he only stands at a mere frame of 5’10” and 191 pounds, Ward plays a much bigger frame than his size may suggest. I am fairly confident in labeling him the most athletically-gifted cornerback in this class. His 4.32 forty-yard speed (T-1st for fastest time at the 2018 NFL Combine) allows him to easily glide with and mirror the receiver. Don’t forget the superb footwork, fluid hips, and exceptional agility that allows him to get to the ball quickly. His play on the field also drips with swagger and teammates feed off his confidence.
Through these strengths, Ward has demonstrated that he has earned the right to be labeled as the consensus CB1 for this year’s draft. He has all the right coverage tools that were seen in Brent Grimes, Chris Harris, and Casey Hayward when they entered the draft. But will the legacy of Ohio State’s defensive back program affect the high expectations teams, coaches, players, and fans have for him? Does it affect his own expectations?
Ohio State’s legendary status as DBU, or “Defensive Back University,” dates back further than any of the recent prospects the school has sent. Since 2000, 28 defensive backs have been drafted out of Ohio State’s program, more than any university in the country. Malcolm Jenkins and Jack Tatum are two notable players that have gone on to have extremely successful careers in the league and win Super Bowls.
And yes, Ohio State is DBU, and it’s not even a question. Check out the table below from Anthony Staggs (@PyroStag on Twitter) that charts the universities that lead in the number of cornerbacks and safeties drafted since the start of the century. Ohio State is safely in the lead, followed by Virginia Tech and Florida rounding out the top 3 spots.
Another notable school on the list? Florida State, which is currently sitting in sixth place before the 2018 draft changes that number. Of course, the hype leading up to big day has all been out safety Derwin James, who I covered earlier in this series. But FSU also has another prospect that may be feeling the pressures of a DB-famed university: Tarvarus McFadden.
A hulking 6’2″ and 198 lbs, McFadden’s biggest asset is his eagle-like wingspan, which he successfully utilizes to limit the catch radius of his receiver. His excellent length allows him to high point the ball well, which led to his FBS-leading eight interceptions his sophomore year. He’s exceptional at turning his head to look for the ball and flashes late hands. His long arms can jab opponents from a distance at the line, which is why he’s best suited for a press coverage format at the next level.
However, in both of his seasons, McFadden faded. He gave up too many red zone touchdowns his first year as a starter, a trend that continued into his junior year. It’s also a bit concerning that a ballhawk like McFadden didn’t record a single interception last season. In a way, he reminds me a bit of Teez Tabor in the fact that he has an overload of question marks and tested poorly in the speed categories.
Over the past decade, FSU has sent notable defensive backs like Lamarcus Joyner and Jalen Ramsey to the NFL, who have enjoyed playoff success in their still-young careers. But FSU also possesses the heritage of delivering the best defensive back of all time, Deion Sanders, to the league. The legend of Sanders still vibrantly lives on to this day. McFadden checks all the boxes regarding physical attributes and his eye for the ball is undeniable. However, comparing him to Sanders, of course, would be downright ridiculous.
This is exactly why what a university has accomplished in the past should not factor into how a present-day player performs in the future. To allow prospects like Ward and McFadden to carry around that weight of living up to history is absolutely unfair. Do you agree? Tell me what you think on Twitter at @Snack_TimeFS or drop a comment on this article down below.
To view my rankings for this year’s defensive back class, click here. To view my take on the ongoing debate over whether Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James is the top safety prospect, click here. To view my interview with Colorado safety Afolabi Laguda on his personal draft process and the Buffaloes’ defensive back program, click here. To view my case for Mike Hughes and DeShon Elliott, click here. To view my take on the one trait that makes Jaire Alexander great, click here. To view my database complete with strengths, weaknesses, draft projection, and player comparison for 2018’s top cornerbacks and safeties, click here.
Cole Topham is the lead editor for snacktimefantasy.com and covers the MLB and NFL. He enjoys watching his opponents suffer as he defeats them week after week in his fantasy football/baseball leagues.