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2016 NFL Draft: Jihad Ward - Sleeper to Senior Bowl star

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Jihad Ward of Illinois grabbed the NFL's attention with a surprisingly strong Senior Bowl week. Is he the kind of player the Giants need?

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

While scouts flocked to the 2016 Senior Bowl to get a look at prospects like Noah Spence, Braxton Miller, Carson Wentz, and Sheldon Rankins, they left having to dive back into the film vaults to get a better look at Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward.

Ward stood out immediately in Senior Bowl practices, with the kind of power and athleticism that makes scouts drool. He easily stood toe to toe with more established prospects. With Ward's performance forcing scouts back to their laptops and tablets, let's take a look and see if he could be an option for the Giants.

Measurables

Pros

  • Great combination of size, length, strength, and athleticism.
  • Carries his weight very well. Does not look -- or move -- like he weighs 296 pounds.
  • Scheme versatile, can likely line up in any front
  • Can win with quickness or power on the inside and showed surprisingly well as an edge rusher in the Senior Bowl.
  • Plays with a good motor.

Cons

  • Technically raw. Ward is a Junior College transfer who has only played defensive line for four years, playing wide receiver and safety before that.
  • Very limited production at this point.
  • Technique limitations can stymie him if his initial rush fails.

Prospect Video

Big Board Rankings

Big Blue View - Not in Top 50

Mocking The Draft - 96

CBS - 126

Draft Tek - 265

Does He Fit With the Giants?

I think Ward does fit with the Giants.

Ultimately, Spags and the Giants want to have a "multiple" defense, and Ward offers the versatility to play defensive tackle in a four-man front, defensive end in an odd front, and even left defensive end in a 4-3 Under or Hybrid defense. His blend of power and quickness are intriguing, and that he stepped up to shine in Senior Bowl practices is promising.

Final Thoughts

If you asked around back in December, I doubt many would have been truthful about knowing who Jihad Ward is -- I know I wouldn't have been able to say I did. But he did what prospects are supposed to do and seized upon the opportunity to distinguish himself.

Ward has only played defensive line for four years, playing wide receiver and safety in high school. At this point, he is largely a lump of clay, but one that could be molded into a masterpiece by the right defensive coaching.