The Cleveland Browns weren’t content with throwing just one curveball in the NFL draft on Thursday night.

After making Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield the first pick of the draft, the Browns picked Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward from nearby Macedonia with the fourth selection.

“It’s amazing,” Ward told Browns media. “It’s a blessing. This has been my childhood dream to get here to the NFL draft, and to be drafted by the Browns and go back to my hometown and play there is just a blessing. I’m so excited to get there and get to work.”

Ward, who attended the draft in Arlington, Texas, was considered a lock to go in the top half of the first round, but mock drafts generally had him going after the first five picks. Many expected the Browns, who were winless last year, to take North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb.

But they decided on a Buckeye who’d been under the radar until 2017.

“He has the burning desire to be one of the better corners in this league,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He has the characteristics — the speed, the hips, the quickness and the suddenness — to be a really great player for us.”

In 2016, Ward rotated with Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Both of those players were first-round picks a year ago, and Lattimore won NFL defensive rookie of the year honors. Last year, Ward developed into a lockdown corner, especially in the last half of the season before he elected not to play in Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl victory over Southern California to avert possible injury.

With blazing speed, excellent technique and the toughness to tackle despite a lean frame, Ward was projected as a first-round pick as soon as he declared for the draft with one year of eligibility remaining.

He said he welcomes the pressure that comes with being the fourth pick.

“I am very confident in my ability,” Ward said. “Being at Ohio State, there was pressure all the time there. Everybody is on edge there, so it is nothing new having that pressure on me, and I look forward to taking that challenge and seeing what I can do at the next level.”

Ward’s hometown is less than 25 miles from Cleveland, but he told The Dispatch on Tuesday that he didn’t grow up rooting for the Browns.

“I didn’t, honestly,” Ward said. “I watched more college football.”

He may not have been a fan of the Browns, but they were obviously fans of his. The Browns made him their first draft pick from Ohio State since 2009 when they took receiver Brian Robiskie in the second round. The only other Buckeye that the Browns have taken since they returned to the NFL in 1999 was tight end Darnell Sanders in the fourth round in 2002.

Ward is the highest-drafted Ohio State cornerback since Seattle picked Shawn Springs with the third overall selection of the 1997 draft.

Ward’s selection comes less than two years after he lost his father, Paul, who died of a heart attack in June 2016. On the NFL red carpet in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, accompanied by his mother, Nicole, Ward remembered him.

“Obviously, I wish my dad was still alive and he was here to spend this time and share this experience with my family, but I know he’s looking down watching,” Ward said. “I’m just excited. I know I’m making him proud and my family proud.”

Including Eli Apple, the 10th overall pick in 2016, Ohio State has now produced four first-round cornerbacks in the last three seasons under cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, who’s now with the Tennessee Titans.

“Ohio State did a great job of preparing me to get where I am today,” Ward said Tuesday. “Under coach Coombs and coach (Urban) Meyer, the development of the players on and off the field at Ohio State I feel is the best in the country. They definitely helped get me to where I am today.”

Browns general manager John Dorsey said that Ohio State coaches vouched for Ward to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“Gregg Williams kind of pulled me into his office,” Dorsey recalled, “and said, ‘Come here. Look at this text here. I’m getting all these texts from the Ohio State football coaches. They say this guy is a really great teammate.’ That is pretty cool.”

As for joining ranks with Mayfield, who infamously tried to plant an Oklahoma Sooners fan in the Block O at Ohio Stadium after beating the Buckeyes last September, Ward was diplomatic.

“I obviously did not like that planting of the flag on the field, but we are on the same team now,” Ward said. “We have got a new mission to accomplish.”


The 16 Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2018 NFL draft:

(function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(d.getElementById(id))return;js=d.createElement(s);;js.src='';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}(document,'script','playbuzz-sdk'));