He’s a better story than a football player right now.
That’s how NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock described the Raiders second round pick, defensive end Jihad Ward, who posted only seven career quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks in two seasons with the Fighting Illini.
Mayock noted his size and upside as a reason for the pick, as Ward is known for elite athleticism — he played wide receiver in junior college — and his 6-foot-6, 297 lb. frame is useful on the outside for a defensive line.
Ward’s best known trait is his ability to tackle running backs for a loss, recording 8.5 stops behind the line in his first season with Illinois, and 3.5 in his final college season.
The Raiders have Mario Edwards Jr., their second round draft pick of 2015, coming off a neck injury that may be degenerative in nature, and appear to be hedging their bets.
There may be a role for both, though, if the Raiders switch to a 3-4 defense as their primary set. With Edwards Jr. on one end, and Ward on the other, Oakland would have a nice pair of edge setters who boast tremendous athletic traits.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.