The Cincinnati Bengals more than any other team in the AFC North certainly place a premium value on cornerbacks. They have three cornerbacks on their current roster alone, their top three at the position, that they drafted in the first round since 2012. There is Dre Kirkpatrick, selected in 2012, then Darqueze Dennard in 2014, and finally William Jackson III in 2016. You can also go back to Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall in 2006 and 2007, both of whom are still playing, though with other teams.
The Cleveland Browns, too, have enjoyed the first-round cornerback over the course of the past decade, beginning with Joe Haden in 2010. In between himself and the latest was the failed selection of Justin Gilbert, who is now largely forgotten to history.
Yet that latest selection, 2018 fourth-overall pick Denzel Ward, more recalls history then is it. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who spent seven seasons playing against Haden, said after playing him in the opener that Ward reminds him of the elder cornerback, with whom he is now teammates.
“Man, they’re just young playmakers, you know, first-round picks, impressive guys, guys with a lot of upside and talent, guys with a lot of confidence, coming from big schools and big programs getting an opportunity to play right away”, Brown told reporters about the two. “You see the plays they’ve been able to make. When Joe came in the league as a rookie he had like six picks. Denzel been on the road and getting picks and playing aggressive, you know”.
Ward recorded two interceptions in the season opener against the Steelers, during which he spent a fair amount of time lined up against Brown, though while one interception came while Brown was the target of the pass, he was not in primary coverage.
Through seven games, the rookie has recorded three interceptions with eight passes defensed. He has also recorded a forced fumble in addition to 32 tackles. Some of the best games of his rookie season have come against division rivals, including the opener against the Steelers and a 12-9 overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens, in which he had an interception and three passes defensed.
The Browns were 2-2-1 at that point, the latest in a season in which they had a non-losing record for some years, but they are on a two-game losing streak heading into Pittsburgh tomorrow. Of course they are not unfamiliar with extended losing streaks, having experienced one of 16 games through the length of the 2017 season.