The Browns placed pressure on Denzel Ward when they took him with No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft. Starting him in Week One will only turn up the heat.
The Cleveland Browns took Bayer Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick the NFL Draft, but he won’t be the rookie facing the most pressure in Week One of the regular season. That honor goes to the team’s No. 4 selection. The Browns plan to start Denzel Ward against the Pittsburgh Steelers come Week 1 is going to put the rookie corner under an intense microscope.
Reports from Cleveland indicate that Hue Jackson intends to throw Ward right into the fire. They aren’t going to consider bringing him along slowly. They drafted him to be a shutdown corner and they want him to learn on the job.
That means you can expect Ward to line up across from Antonio Brown frequently during the Browns opening game of the year. Things won’t get much easier for Ward in Week 2 either. The Browns will travel to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints after their matchup against the Steelers.
In fairness to the Browns, it’s not uncommon to see high draft picks start early in their careers. Outside of the quarterback position, it’s actually the norm. That doesn’t mean it always works out though. Putting Ward out on an island so early in his career could put his confidence in serious jeopardy. That’s a dangerous thing to do with a young defensive back.
The smart thing for Cleveland to do would be to give Ward plenty of help early in the season. He can line up against the top receivers in the league, but it doesn’t mean he should be covering them one-on-one every down. Expect the Browns coaching staff to provide him plenty of safety help over the top while he gets his feet under him.
Ward may not have deserved to be drafted with the No. 4 pick, but he’s clearly a talented cornerback. The Browns need to make sure they don’t feed the rookie too much too fast. Drowning him early in his career could prevent him from reaching his full potential. That would be a mistake with serious consequences for the Browns and Ward.