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Edge defender Jihad Ward looks to build on career year with Giants

It appears Ward has finally found a home in the NFL

NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ two starting edge defenders, Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux, are still young players looking to fulfill their potential. It makes sense that the Giants would keep Jihad Ward on the roster, a seven-year veteran with experience playing for six different teams.

Ward saw more playing time last year than at any point in his career previously. Will he have such a vital role for the Giants in 2023?

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 287
Age: 29
Position: Outside linebacker
Experience: 8
Contract: One-year, $1.5 million deal; $200,00 guaranteed | 2023 cap hit: $1.5 million

Career to date

Ward has played for five different teams in the seven years since the Oakland Raiders selected him with the 44th pick of the 2016 draft. However, he’s spent significant portions of that time sidelined by injury.

Ward entered the draft while recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of his first training camp. His underwhelming rookie season saw him record 30 tackles in 13 starts. A foot injury limited him to just five games next season, after which the Raiders traded him to the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Ryan Switzer.

The Cowboys waived Ward before the season. The Indianapolis Colts claimed him, but he missed most of 2018 with yet another leg injury following a promising six-game start to the season.

After uneventful stints with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, Ward signed with the Giants head of the 2022 season, reuniting with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

Ward experienced something of a career rejuvenation in New York, serving as a replacement while Azeez Ojulari spent most of the season injured. He recorded three sacks, 24 pressures, and 43 tackles in 11 starts. He played a career-high 657 snaps on defense and 95 snaps on special teams. It was the first time since his rookie year that he started more than one game or played more than 50% of his team’s snaps.

The Giants brought Ward back on another one-year deal this March.

2023 outlook

Ideally, Ojulari and Thibodeaux will stay healthy and be the Giants’ primary edge defenders. Ojulari’s injuries were the only reason Ward saw the high snap count he did last year. However, Ward will still serve as a valuable rotational piece, and has already proven that he can fill in should either starter go down. He will also continue his presence as the veteran leader of an otherwise youthful group of edge defenders; he’s known as a loud and exciting locker room personality.

This will be Ward’s fourth season playing for Martindale, between Baltimore and New York. Ward possess the versatility Martindale seems to prize above all else in a defender. He’s useful against the run — ranking third on the team with 20 run stops — and has the size to play anywhere on the defensive line. He’s taken at least a few snaps at almost every position in the front seven throughout his career. His speed and burst off the line of scrimmage are also better than one might expect given his age and injury history.

The Giants’ pass rush depth is still a bit thin, and it’s possible they could look to supplement their roster with another free agent or two before the regular season begins. For now though, Ward should be seen as the No. 3 option along the edge.