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NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Illinois DL Jihad Ward

The Patriots will be waging a holy war on AFC Offensive Lines with this guy.

Jihad Ward could be a developmental player in the DT rotation in the future.
Jihad Ward could be a developmental player in the DT rotation in the future.
Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots are very deep at DT in 2016 with Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, and Alan Branch under contract for 2016. The Patriots have spent their top pick at the position in the last two drafts, which would raise questions to why would the Patriots do so again? You wouldn't think they would, but again it comes down to availability. Back to the topic at hand, the Patriots could wind up spending a Day 2 pick on their defensive line.

Ward is a developmental player who I think is more of an interior guy than the edge player he was at Illinois. In the Senior Bowl they also worked him in as a defensive tackle, where I think his true NFL position will be. Ward reminds me a lot of Derek Wolfe as a prospect. I'm not comparing him to the star player he is today, but rather where he was in the draft process in 2012. Wolfe played as a 5-tech defensive end in both Jack Del Rio's and Wade Phillips' defenses. Ward would be doing something similar in the New England defense.

There's no pressure for Ward to have to be ready for prime time at the start of the 2016 season with the aforementioned depth listed at the top of the article. He'd be a rotational player both inside and outside, depending on the matchups. His college production wasn't very good, but he has very good traits to work with. He moves down the line well laterally and has good movement skills at just under 300 pounds. At the same time, he is susceptible to double teams on the inside and can get blown off the ball. There are instances where he doesn't impose his will on the offensive lineman, which could be a problem in the early going of his career.

The Patriots have a good position coach in Brendan Daly for the defensive line and he could be the solution towards unlocking Ward's potential. Ward has room to add about 10-15 pounds of muscle to his frame and shift to a full time defensive tackle role in the NFL. It's unlikely he contributes much in his first year, but as I said before that's not a deal-breaker. Overall I consider him a mid 3rd round grade with mid 2nd round value. The Patriots most likely pick for him would be at 60.