Denzel Ward’s expectation of playing in the NFL and being a high draft pick began before he even arrived at Ohio State.
As he reflected on being drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 4 overall pick on Thursday night, Ward also reflected back on being recruited to Ohio State, and how what eventually came to be on Thursday was a big reason why he chose to be a Buckeye in the first place.
"When I was getting recruited, (former Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry) Coombs, I remember him saying that he wanted to coach first-round draft picks and he wanted to win championships," Ward said in a conference call with Browns reporters after being drafted. "Well, that kind of sold me to go to Ohio State, and when getting there – Coach (Urban) Meyer, Coach Mick (Marotti), all those guys – they got a standard set in place where they don’t expect nothing less to be a first-round pick and get guys to the league and be able to produce."
That standard had already been met before Thursday night, as Coombs, Meyer and Marotti had already developed four cornerbacks who had gone on to be NFL first-round picks: Bradley Roby (No. 31 overall, Denver Broncos) in 2014, Eli Apple (No. 10 overall, New York Giants) in 2016 and Marshon Lattimore (No. 11 overall, New Orleans Saints) and Gareon Conley (No. 24 overall, Oakland Raiders) in 2017. But now that Ward has joined that fraternity – and as the highest overall draft pick among them – he wants to continue to build upon that standard by achieving success at the next level.
"It’s an honor to be drafted at the pick I was picked at, fourth in the entire draft," Ward said. "I’m just ready to get to work."
Being the No. 4 overall pick in the draft comes with substantial pressure to perform – pressure that will only be increased by the fact that he will now be one of the players expected to lead a turnaround of a team that won zero games last season, and by the success of his Buckeye predecessors, particularly Lattimore as last season’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Ward is ready to embrace that pressure, though, the same way he was when he decided to become a Buckeye less than four years ago.
"I’m very confident in my ability, and I’m looking forward to that pressure," Ward said. "Being at Ohio State, it was pressure all the time there. Everybody is on edge there, so it is kind of nothing new having the pressure on me, and I look forward to taking on that challenge and seeing what I can do at the next level."
While playing for a team that was the worst team in the NFL for the last two seasons could be a big difference from playing for a perennial championship contender at Ohio State, Ward said he is excited to have the opportunity to help the Browns find their way back to success.
"It’s an honor, ‘cause I feel like they are definitely trusting in me to kind of help be on the wave of turning the system around, and I look forward to that challenge," Ward said. "I look forward to any challenge that people place on me, and I feel like I’m going to end out on top."
“Being at Ohio State, it was pressure all the time there. Everybody is on edge there, so it is kind of nothing new having the pressure on me, and I look forward to taking on that challenge and seeing what I can do at the next level.”– Denzel Ward on embracing the pressure of being the no. 4 overall pick
As Ward has prepared for his opportunity to play in the NFL, he said he has been in constant contact with his former teammates Lattimore, Conley and Apple to get their advice on what it takes to succeed at the next level.
"I talk to those guys like every day," Ward said. "They gave me advice throughout the whole process. They were just saying when I get drafted, make sure I hit the playbook immediately, because you’ve got a certain time frame you’re going to have to learn the system, so I definitely plan on doing that."
So while Ward knows he will have to continue to improve in order to succeed in the NFL, he is confident that his experience gained from Ohio State will give him the ability to contribute immediately in Cleveland.
"I definitely feel that I am prepared," Ward said. "I know I still got a lot of things that I got to work on, but I do feel that I can come to the Browns and help this team out and help us win games."