Some players sneak up on me. That’s part of what makes college football so fun. I have no idea who they are and then “BOOM” they emerge and make their presence felt. Jonathan Ward is one such example. It was early November in 2017, and I remember watching Central Michigan playing Western Michigan in the battle for the Victory Cannon. Western Michigan had won the past three battles, but it was Central Michigan that won the rivalry game on that night. Western Michigan was running it down the Chippewa’s throats, and then I see this guy emerge.
Okay, he can catch. Nice burst and wiggle to create an explosive play.
Willing to block – check.
Down 14, in the rain, he’s got my undivided attention now. Shows off excellent vision, balance, and agility as he navigates through the Broncos defense to cut into the lead.
Now down 7, finds the hole and shows that he is a real menace in space.
He doesn’t have to pay the piper here, and he’s willing to block, but he will need to keep working on his pass blocking and get stronger.
Ward added 18-130-1 rushing and 4-81-0 receiving to help cap the 35-28 win. He showed me that he was a dynamic athlete who can be a very versatile weapon. That game caused me to do some digging into who he was.
Considered a 2-star-recruit by 247Sports, Ward played RB for Bishop McNamara High School in Illinois. He was recruited by a few more prominent programs like Illinois, Iowa, Memphis, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Northwestern but he had a committable offer to CMU and elected to head north. Ward was a three-year starter who holds his high school career records for touchdowns (83), rushing yards (5,689), single-season records for yards (2,400) and TDs (36). He played in eight games as a true freshman in 2016, but he didn’t fully emerge until his sophomore season. Ward finished that year with 179-1017-10 rushing to pair with 48-470-3 as a receiver. He qualified for a breakout season with a 28.60% Dominator Rating. Similar to the way that Nyheim Hines was used at NC State, Ward played a lot of slot receiver for the Chippewa’s early in 2017. Against Boston College, he caught ten passes. His ability to be an asset as a receiver one thing that excites me about his potential. Hines was a favorite of mine, and I think the NFL is transitioning to a style of play that welcomes players with these types of skill sets.
Ward has a very nice burst, and he has good but not great long speed and stamina. Based on his frame at 6’0 and 194 pounds, I would love to see him improve that aspect of his game in 2018. As you can see in the clip below, he’s got plenty of juice, but I would still be thrilled to see an uptick as he enters his third season in a collegiate strength program.
Based on his film from the 2017 season, he isn’t likely to be confused with a power back, but he can be an effective short-area runner due to his patience, vision, and burst.
Plays like the one below against Wyoming in the Bowl Game remind me a lot of who my pal Ryan (@StillRyanFive) compared him to, Alvin Kamara.
Touchdown, Central Michigan!
Shane Morris finds Jonathan Ward on a wheel route for a 74-yard touchdown, cutting Central Michigan's deficit to seven points against Wyoming, 14-7. pic.twitter.com/UcF5eM7vZR
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) December 22, 2017
More evidence of his effectiveness as a receiver.
Touchdown, Central Michigan!
Shane Morris hits Jonathan Ward for a four-yard score with 1:19 left in the third quarter. Central Michigan and Northern Illinois are tied, 17-17. pic.twitter.com/IaYj3NnOT5
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) November 24, 2017
Central Michigan RB Jonathan Ward with the dance moves on the field. 😂🏈 pic.twitter.com/DAKGorsS6G
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) April 21, 2018
According to Pro Football Focus, Ward finished as the third-ranked RB in the FBS in missed tackles forced after catches last season with 21. As I previously mentioned, that will be what gets him onto the radar of NFL teams. He has two years of eligibility remaining, and I am very confident that he can be a high-tier CFF asset. At this point, how high his ceiling is at the NFL level is still in flux for me. He will need to get a bit bigger, stronger, and faster but he is a player that I like and believe he should be on watch lists for Devy players in 2018.