General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah wasn’t done acquiring more assets.
After trading down in the third round, Adofo-Mensah kicked off Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft by trading down 15 spots. In the process, Minnesota Vikings received a 2024 fifth-round pick from the Kansas City Chiefs.
With the 134th overall pick, the Vikings selected LSU safety Jay Ward.
Ward was considered the 179th overall prospect and safety 14 in this year’s class by Pro Football Networks’ Industry Consensus Big Board.
Like Mekhi Blackmon, Ward is considered a bit of a reach, but it seems the Vikings will be taking their guys, regardless of perceived value.
Brian Flores loves versatile defensive backs, and Jay Ward is another one to throw into the mix.
While at LSU, Ward operated all over the field, including nickel and boundary cornerback. By most standards, he’s considered a “tweener” in the NFL and may struggle to find a full-time home at safety.
Ward’s versatility is reminiscent of Eric Rowe, who Flores coached in Miami. Under Flores, Rowe was used as both a nickel cornerback and safety, covering the versatile tight ends that the NFL is seeing.
This will likely be Ward’s role in his rookie season, and his experience playing similarly in college should help ease that transition.
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If you don’t see a common trend among the Vikings’ draft picks this season, let me help you out.
Like Mekhi Blackmon, Ward posted a 1.53-second 10-yard split on his 40-yard dash, which places him in the 70th percentile, according to MockDraftable.
Ward also had an incredible broad jump rep at the NFL Scouting Combine, showing that his explosion is up to par.
Ward’s relative athletic score profile compares nicely to Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Although Sneed ran a faster 40-yard dash, the two had similar broad jumps and 10-yard splits (Ward posted a better 10-yard split by 0.02 seconds).
If the plan is for Ward to cover tight ends, then that athleticism will be critical. Ward will lose the height battle against most tight ends, so he’ll need to keep up with them somehow.
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In 2021, new Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones was Jay Ward’s defensive coordinator at LSU.
That season coincided with Ward’s move to safety because the cornerback room was relatively deep. Derek Stingley, Eli Ricks, and Cordale Flott were all returning that season, so Jones recommended Ward move to safety.
“When coach Jones first got here, he talked to me, he called me personally, he was saying I might have to get a few reps at safety,” Jones told the media that season. “It really didn’t matter to me because I just wanted to help the team out and put the team in the best position and put the best 11 people on defense and fight.”
Ward also had good things to say about Jones, mentioning that he “preaches a lot about turnovers.”
“Coach Jones preaches a lot about turnovers and that’s what I’m all about,” Ward said. “I want the ball in my hands. Time to go score. Coach Jones always talks about the people he coached like Reshad Jones. I turn on the tape and I kinda reflect on him.”
While multiple things likely played in Ward’s selection, it’s safe to say that Jones probably had a say in the pick.
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Ward was also a productive player on special teams for the LSU Tigers and often found ways to impact the game from those situations.
Ward blocked two field goals at LSU and four while in high school, showing that his productivity might not be limited to just defense.
With some of the concerns around Ward’s profile, he’ll likely have to find a spot on special teams. He’ll likely slot in on the field goal block team, but there’s also potential for him to find a role on either kickoffs or punts. That is something that current Vikings safety Josh Metellus noticed and mentioned right away.
Heard you block kicks too 👀 let’s go get ‘em https://t.co/DOEmrmwXI2
— Joshua Metellus (@NoExcuses_23) April 29, 2023
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Ward plays with a competitive edge that allows him to make plays moving downhill from deeper areas.
The problem with that physicality is that it can lead to some challenging situations. Penalties were a problem at LSU, and Ward was prone to try to deliver crushing blows on ball carriers, leading to missed tackles.
Still, you can’t teach physicality to a player, but you can teach them how to harness that strength in the right ways.
Ward’s approach to the game helps, especially with some of his size limitations. Being able to match the physicality of stronger players should allow Ward to match-up well in the NFL.