I finally got done watching several games of TJ Ward, the potential free agent target from the Browns.
Age 27…will turn 28 in December
4 years in the NFL
Missed 8 games in 2011 and 2 games in 2012.
5 career INTs
5 career FFs
24 career pass deflections
24 career TFLs
3.5 career sacks
248 career solo tackles
I had high hopes when I put on the tape, but must admit to being slightly disappointed. Ward is a tough, physical Safety and I loved that side of his game, but he simply missed too many tackles for me to come away overly excited. Ward is an aggressive tackler. He likes to go low on his targets and that leads to some misses. Sometimes players fight through the contact. Other times players are able to side-step or go over him.
Ward is a physical player. Put him in the box and he’s right at home. He will take on O-linemen if needed. He will fight through traffic to get to the ball. Ward does have some pop when he hits and tackles. Calvin Johnson caught an intermediate pass over the middle and Ward was able to knock the ball loose. This wasn’t one of those jarring hits where the DB ran 10 yards at full speed (Brandon Meriweather or Dunta Robinson). Ward was near CJ and just exploded into him. This kind of short area explosive hitting isn’t common. Ward can “uncoil” and offensive players will feel it.
I didn’t see Ward as undisciplined or stupid with his hitting. He wanted to punish runners and receivers, but did so under control. That’s important in today’s NFL. Gone are the days when Wes and Andre could patrol the middle and level receivers any way they wanted. I don’t know the penalty stats on Ward for the year, but he was pretty clean in the games I watched.
Ward is versatile. Cleveland played him down in the box a lot, but not exclusively. They liked to show 8-man fronts on some plays and then would have Ward retreat at the snap and get 20-25 yards deep. He has good feet and is a solid athlete. Ward was able to quickly get good depth on those plays and be an effective downfield cover guy. Other times he covered the TE 1-on-1. Ward did a good job of this on underneath routes. I didn’t see him going downfield in man coverage, but he certainly has the speed to run with most TEs.
I didn’t get a good feel for Ward’s ball skills. He didn’t have any picks or drops in the games that I watched. On a side note, his 2 INTs in 2014 came vs MIN and BUF, a pair of teams with bad QBs. Ward only has 5 INTs for his career so clearly he’s not a ballhawk. I don’t know if that is a part of his game that can get substantially better.
Ward looked like a pretty smart player. He seemed to read plays well. He took good angles to the ball. I didn’t see any obvious mental mistakes in coverage. Before the snap, he does talk to his teammates and help to get everyone lined up correctly.
It was fun to watch Ward and see the physical element to his game. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s tough and he’s “springy”. Seeing that frame and ability to explode into players reminded me of Brian Dawkins a couple of times. The difference is that Dawk had great hands and was instinctive, which made him more of a ballhawk. Ward is best used in the box. Dawk could be the SS, FS or even nickelback and excel in all 3 roles. If we could find a way to combine TJ Ward and Jairus Byrd, we’d have Dawk Jr.
Ward makes sense as an Eagles target because he is versatile and Bill Davis likes that. He has talked about wanting to play his Safeties as the Right Safety and the Left Safety, meaning they are interchangeable. Byrd is more of a pure centerfielder. Ward can go back and play centerfield or Cover 2. He can play in the box. Ward does miss more tackles than you want, but to be fair…part of that is because he’s such an active tackler. Byrd was more efficient, but also was more selective about tackle attempts.
The biggest argument against Ward is that he’s got 5 INTs and 5 FFs in 4 years. Safeties that break the bank need to make impact plays…aka create turnovers. I don’t know that Ward is worth big money if you have a young guy like Earl Wolff already on the roster (a player that will hit and tackle).
I certainly won’t be upset if the Eagles go after Ward, but I think it would surprise me.