Cam Ward draft introduction

My NFL comp for Cam Ward is Zach Wilson, the 2nd overall pick 2021, taken by the Jets out of BYU. I had a 1st round grade on Wilson. What is the difference between Wilson and Malik Willis? Is there any difference? One player was the 2nd overall pick. The other QB was projected to be the 2nd overall pick, but ended up being a 3rd round selection. When Wilson and Willis have gotten on the field in the NFL, both of them have looked more like UDFAs and not like bona fide top 5 overall draft prospects.

Most mock drafts had Malik Willis going very early in the 2022 draft. Lance Zierlein had a 6.41 grade, the 19th overall prospect, and a 1st round projection on him. The Detroit Lions made a critical decision by selecting Aidan Hutchinson 2nd overall instead of taking Willis to groom as the replacement for Jared Goff. Hutchinson had an 80.7 PFF grade as a rookie, PFF's 21st ranked EDGE defender, 9.5 sacks and 3 INTs, the 18th ranked DE per SIS Datahub. Willis started 3 games. He completed less than 51% of his passes, with zero TDs and 3 INTs and 3 fumbles.

PFF said that Willis had a higher grade his final season in college than Trevor Lawrence did coming out of Clemson. If Detroit passed on Willis at 2, PFF suggested that Carolina could take him at 6. The Panthers drafted an offensive lineman, Ikem Ekwonu. It was a critical decision for them, because in 2023 Carolina traded up to draft Bryce Young with the top overall pick.

PFF listed the Steelers as the next most likely destination. They selected Kenny Pickett at 20, who had a mixed bag rookie season, going 7-5 in his starts, but throwing more INTs (9) than TDs (7). The Steelers recently signed Mitch Trubisky to a new 3 year contract, with incentives built into the deal, a sign that perhaps it is too early to tell whether Pickett will become a long term franchise QB. Trubisky himself at one time was supposed to be the franchise guy for Chicago.

PFF listed the Falcons as a potential early 2nd round destination for Willis. Atlanta traded up in the 2nd round, but not for Willis. Instead, they took EDGE rusher Arnold Ebiketie, giving up a 4th round pick. In the 3rd round, Atlanta once again passed on Willis, drafting a different QB instead, Desmond Ridder. Making 4 starts as a rookie, Ridder's PFF grade (55.9) wasn't much better than the poor grade for Willis (51.9).

Cam Ward could be a perfect illustration of the "is the glass half full or half empty" aspect of picking QBs in the draft. Look at how he's ranked or described by various draft experts:

PFN draft simulator 52nd overall (2nd round)

Shane Hallam 18th QB, 225th overall (7th round)

NFLMDD consensus big board 12th, 122nd overall (4th round)

Bleeding Green Nation (Philadelphia Eagles fan site) mock draft 13th overall (1st round)

TDN (Ryan Fowler) big board 24th overall (1st round)

TDN (Kyle Crabbs): Creative passer with natural talent. Makes plays out of structure. Inconsistent mechanics, impacting accuracy. Surprised by pressure when not making pre-snap reads.

PFN: Incredible change of direction, impressive pocket awareness. Elite arm talent. Easy velocity, can throw from different arm angles and on run. Inconsistent mechanics. Loose ball security. Questionable decision making, forcing passes into danger.

Buffalo Fambase big board 17th QB, 167th overall (late 5th round)

Sports Illustrated not ranked among top 15 QBs in draft, which typically would translate to being an UDFA, because the 2004 and 2016 drafts are the only times that at least 15 QBs were selected in the draft over the last 20 years: Elite traits. Needs to work on lower body mechanics and pre-snap process. Accuracy and decision making fluctuate. Fumbled nearly 2 dozen times at Incarnate Word. 4th round grade.

Before deciding to return to school, Ward was ranked by Luke Easterling as the 6th best QB in the 2023 draft, ahead of players such as Jaren Hall (5th rd), Tanner McKee (6th rd), Clayton Tune (5th rd) and Stetson Bennett (4th rd).

NFLDB 14th QB, 134th (5th round): NFL arm, makes checks at LOS, stands in and takes hits. Struggles with decision making and pre-snap reads. Lacks prototypical size. Fails to give receivers chance to make plays after catch.

In other words, Ward could be a 1st round pick or he might be a 7th round pick. Is Ward the next Jalen Hurts or is he an inferior version of Tyrod Taylor (6th round 2011)?


Name: Cameron Ward. 22 years old in May of 2024.

School: Washington State. Transferred from Incarnate Word. Studying social science.

Size: Listed 6'2'' tall and 215 pounds. Sports Illustrated 6'2 1/8'' tall, 225 pounds. NFLDB 4.87 second 40 time.

From small town in southeastern Texas. Played in Wing T offense in high school.Played basketball, threw discus in track. Quandre Diggs and Quentin Jammer are his cousins. Has 3 older siblings.

Incarnate Word was his only offer. He said he would have had to go JUCO if he hadn't gone to UIW. Played through shoulder injury in spring of 2021. Piled up stats in Air Raid offense at UIW. Won Jerry Rice award (essentially the FCS Heisman trophy). Washington State hired UIW's coach, Eric Morris, to be their new OC and Ward followed him, transferring to WSU.

Morris once was the OC for Texas Tech, part of the Mike Leach and Kliff Kingsbury coaching tree. He was the OC when Patrick Mahomes was at TTU.

Focused, self aware, confident in interviews. Calm demeanor.

2020 (Incarnate Word, spring 2021, 6 games, 3-3 record): 60.4% completions, 2,260 yards, 24 TDs, 4 INTs,

2021 (Incarnate Word, 13 games, 10-3 record): 65.0% completions, 4,648 yards, 47 TDs, 10 INTs, 33 sacks, 12 fumbles. 74-65-1 rushing

2022 (13 games, 7-6 record): 64.4% completions, 3,232 yards, 23 TDs, 9 INTs, 46 sacks, 7 fumbles. 107-58-5 rushing

Led the Pac 12 in most sacks and most sack yardage in 2022.


When Ward is at his best, he's a "Mini-Me" Patrick Mahomes, elusive, with street lot style passes from creative arm angles. As he was stumbling and falling down, QB flipped ball like it was a pancake, over the head of defender and to the WR. Had to have it 4th down, QB escapes pressure, circles back, then finds RB on opposite side of field to pick up 1st down. Zig zags in pocket to escape sacks, then finds receivers downfield off script, creating potential chunk plays out of broken plays.

Quick set up and release. Can drop arm to 3/4 angle, but still deliver pass with zip and accuracy. Threw the ball so quickly on a flea flicker play, got rid of it like a hot potato as soon as he caught it. Difficult for CBs to drive on underneath routes, because ball comes out quickly.

Good ball velocity. Consistent smoke on 15 yard sideline throws from opposite hash. In quick game, ball gets out to WR in a hurry with velocity and placement.

Proper ball placements on quick screens help the WRs run for extra yardage after catch.

Slippery changes of direction in phonebooth makes defenders miss or slide off of him. Solid forward burst on QB draws. Glides across the field, fluid athlete.

While he's not tall, he has a strong and thick build.

Bold, confident player who isn't afraid to challenge tight coverage. On the field plays with a certain edge and attitude, with a hunger to make plays.

Would be normal age for prospect if he enters 2024 draft and will be a 4 year starter with plenty of playing experience under his belt.


Highlights don't win football games. On his tape, he'll make a spectacular play, then literally on the very next snap he'll make a bad play, messing up a much easier play. Too inconsistent. If you just watched the highlights, you probably would think that he's a superstar, but when you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and his team lost, why did that happen?

Played in fast tempo, Air Raid, spread system offense. Got a huge play when CB got caught looking at sideline when ball was snapped, allowing WR to run downfield uncovered. Completion rate inflated by heavy diet of screens and RPOs. He even got several touch pass plays, like a jet sweep, but it counted as a pass. In their spread offense, some of their quick throws were essentially just running plays, padding QB's stats. To a degree, he's a system QB. Could require extra time to get comfortable with an NFL playbook, unlikely to be pro ready as a rookie.

WSU's skill position players were good in 2022. They might not be great NFL prospects, but they were good for the college level. Ward had help on offense, he wasn't a one man band.

Lazy with his mechanics. Doesn't set his feet even when he has time, relies on his arm and unnecessarily makes passes from awkward body positions. Helmet tilted to left, body not balanced on follow through. Throws off back foot when pressured, sailing passes high. Doesn't stand tall in pocket, will lean sideways or backwards on release, impacted by mild pressure in face, resulting in pass drifting off target. Progression read working across the field, QB finds WR to sideline to target, but instead of taking slide step to find window, QB decides to work ball over defender by throwing "fade away jumper", oddly leaning backwards on release. QB checks it down to RB, but doesn't step towards target, just flings ball with arm and the pass sails high and wide, bouncing off of RB's hands and incomplete. Leaned backwards on 30 yard deep post, WR well behind defender, but has to lay out to make spectacular catch, because ball is overthrown. Footwork in pocket is messy. Hopped backwards instead of stepping forward into throw, resulting in pass to WR who was all alone and uncovered to fall short, forcing WR to dive to ground to make catch. Loses accuracy and velocity when he throws without firm base. The ball flutters and tumbles in air, doesn't have a good spiral.

Loose with accuracy. Small misses on very easy throws impact the outcome of the play, QB needs to be more focused and dedicated to hitting the target precisely, instead of just flinging the ball in the general vicinity of the WR. Had WR open 30 yards downfield, clean pocket, but so lazy with footwork the pass misses behind the WR and CB knocks the ball away. Forces target to bend over or go to ground to make catches when he misses low on simple throws. WR open on slant and QB drills it into the ground short of the WR. Made correct read to throw bubble screen, but pass forced WR to bend over to catch, ruining YAC, so it is 3rd down instead of 1st down, then QB gets sacked on 3rd down, so that tiny difference in accuracy effectively ended the drive. Ball placements not correct, on simple slants will throw the ball to the wrong shoulder of WR, even if there is a CB lurking on that side. Slant near GL, if placed to inside shoulder of WR, it is a sure TD, but pass is on back hip, bounces off hands of WR, up into air and is nearly an INT. Nearly missed WR on shallow crosser, but WR makes spectacular one handed catch to save off target throw. Forced WR to spin around 360 degrees on basic speed out. Near GL, WR open on slant for a TD, but QB's pass way behind and bounces off turf. Repeatedly missed end zone fades. Not remotely close to WR on deep fade route. Backshoulder fade way out of bounds, not even close to WR, no shot at even attempting a catch. Ball placement and accuracy not dialed in on sideline fades.

Needs to get better at diagnosing coverage. Had post the whole time vs basic cover 2 zone, but QB doesn't see it, throws it to checkdown for minimal gain instead of 1st down. Eyes glued too long on primary read when QB should realize it isn't open, making QB late to look at the rest of the progression and giving time for the DL pass rush to get to him in pocket. Red zone, QB's eyes stuck too long on 1st read, doesn't recognize that WRs running shallow crossing routes will cause one of them to pop wide open when CB gets caught up in traffic, losing potential TD pass. Not reading DE dropping underneath tunnel screen, QB throws critical pick six late in 4th quarter to seal loss. WR had leverage on the CB, the QB should have stuck with 1st read, but QB came off of it too early and checked ball down instead, losing opportunity for 1st down. No disguise in coverage, yet QB's eyes stuck too long on 1st read, late to realize that WR running across the field is coming wide open, which he should have immediately known once he saw the position of the safety and right off the snap knew the coverage.

If you read the progression with the QB, he doesn't go through the progression properly. 3rd down snap, QB looks to the left, it is very obvious that neither of those 2 WRs are open, yet his eyes linger there too long. Then he comes back to the middle of the field to the 3rd read and that WR is open, he created separation from his CB, but QB doesn't throw the ball, his eyes drop to look at the DL, scrambles away from pressure, then flips the ball underhanded to that 3rd WR he should have thrown the ball to earlier and WR makes spectacular catch. On the highlight tape it looks cool, but this is a "bad" play. It isn't a good trait when the QB has to run around like a madman on a snap where all he has to do is read a basic progression properly and get the ball out of his hands on schedule. You turn a play that should have been a 3 on the scale of difficulty into an 8 by not being mentally on point, relying too much on your athleticism to make something happen. 3rd down, very basic coverage rotation, QB should work left side of field, but comes off read way too early, ends up throwing ball out of bounds.

Soft zone coverage, QB keeps staring at middle of field, I don't understand what he's looking at, because neither of the WRs are open in that area. His RB is all alone as safety outlet, there is no defender within nearly 15 yards of him. QB retreats backwards in pocket, nearly gets sacked, pulls out of tackle, throws it to RB, who rumbles down the sideline for a huge gain. It looks "cool", but all the QB had to do is swing it out to the RB in the first place. The entire part where the QB is dodging defenders in the pocket was 100% unnecessary and a complete waste, QB just lucky that the RB was still wide open when he finally delivered the pass way late.

Doesn't even reliably make the correct choice on an RPO. QB is looking directly at defender, but still hands the ball off to the RB, even though that defender is crashing directly into the hole where the RB is going to run. The QB is supposed to pull the ball and throw it to the WR running slant behind the defender.

Critical moment late in 4th quarter. If QB works down in the progression and just hits the RB circling out of the backfield on basic Texas route, the game is probably over. Just hit that very short throw and team can run out rest of clock. QB never sees it, his eyes glued too long on other side of field, then QB has to throw the ball out of bounds, stopping the clock. So, not only does team not get 1st down, they give additional time for the opponent to mount potential comeback drive and that is what plays out as opponent scores on the next possession to take lead.

Extremely important 3rd down in 4th quarter. Defense shows man coverage when WR goes in motion. The 3rd WR in bunch set crosses face of his CB and is wide open. QB never sees it, because his eyes drop to look at pass rush. Not standing tall and delivering in crowded pocket, QB goes into turtle mode and eats ball for sack, an absolute killer mistake at critical juncture with the game on the line.

Red zone, no safety in middle of field. Off the snap, the LB in the middle moves to right side of field. QB doesn't get to the slant route to the left, eyes linger too long to the right, even though LB is sitting right under that route. When QB finally gets back to the left, his feet aren't set and he hops backwards, throwing while leaning back instead of stepping into throw, ball is high and hot, bouncing off of WR's hands instead of being an easy TD.

Red zone, defense shows zone pre-snap. WRs run slants, QB doesn't think it is open in 1st window, but since it is zone coverage, the QB should realize that if he just remains patient for a split second, the inside WR will come open in the 2nd window once he clears the underneath LB. QB doesn't anticipate it, tries to scramble around then nearly makes highlight throw to the WR he should have hit initially, but pass goes out of bounds. Another example of where he could have made a level 3 degree of difficulty throw for a TD, but instead tried to convert it into a miracle level 8 degree of difficulty play. It might look "exciting" on a highlight tape, but this is how you lose football games.

Carries ball loosely in one hand when running. Ball swing far away from body, very easy for defenders to knock it out of his hand. Carries the ball like it is a stinky, dirty diaper he can't wait to get out of his hand, as if he'd be glad if the defender took it from him.

Takes avoidable sacks by holding ball too long and retreating backwards in pocket, too confident in own legs instead of having more urgency to respond to pressure. Dances instead of moving in pocket, resulting in him getting sacked, lacking the awareness to tell when he is in danger, so the rush gets to him before he can get ball out or escape the pocket. One such play, there is a huge gaping hole in front of him he could have scrambled through, but QB doesn't use it. Takes field position killing sacks instead of getting ball out and making better game management decisions. 3rd down, instead of standing in and delivering ball for potential 1st down conversion, retreats backwards into end zone, nearly causing a safety. 3rd down, only 3 man rush, holds ball too long after stepping up in pocket, allowing DE to spin away from good pass block and get sack. Backed up near own GL, QB looks to his left, unaware of CB blitz coming from the right side, barely turns head in time to avoid taking safety. Ward is a good example of how having an athletic QB capable of escaping sacks doesn't necessarily translate into the team having fewer sacks. Just as often as he erases sacks by dodging defenders, Wards "creates" sacks by not handling pressure properly. If you look at his huge sack total in 2022, you might jump to conclusions and assume his OL wasn't good at pass blocking, but that isn't what the tape shows. The QB contributed to his own pressure rate on many plays.

Quicker than fast. His speed tops out quickly. Once he breaks out of the pocket, he runs like he's a "slow" player. Very elusive, but not as dangerous with his legs as elite NFL dual threat QBs. Loses races to the edge, one example caused him to be unable to convert short 3rd down, tackled short of marker. Kept ball on short 4th down, but not enough run power or speed to get to marker, ruled inches short, stuffed by 2 defenders. QB got away from college defenders who weren't very good or very fast, but I have doubts about whether he will have the same level of success escaping from NFL level pass rushers.

The experts say he has a great arm, but he didn't throw many deep bombs in WSU's offense. This was more than just a one year thing for Ward playing in Eric Morris's system. In 2021 for Incarnate Word, Cam Ward per PFF only had an accuracy percentage of 33.3% on passes at least 20 yards, an astoundingly low rate, which would have ranked among the worst in the nation that year if he had played at the FBS level. CJ Stroud for Ohio State in the same category had a rate of 56.5%. Loads up and tries to launch 50 yard bomb, but the pass only travels 45 yards. WR behind the CB, but forced to adjust and comeback towards the QB to make catch.

Ward's 2021 accuracy percentage was only slightly better in the intermediate range, at 59.6%, over 10 percentage points below Bryce Young and CJ Stroud in the same category, and would have put Ward only middle of the pack in the country.

Very strange mistake on 2 point conversion try, failing to extend the ball forward as he ran out of bounds at the corner pylon, resulting in him being ruled short. If you think this was just some random blunder that would never happen again, he did the exact same thing later in the same game, running out of bounds near 1st down marker, but failed to extend ball, resulting in him being marked short of the yard to gain.

2023 Outlook

WSU hosts Wisconsin on September 9th. They don't play USC this year. The final regular season game is the Apple Cup at Washington.

Ward has intriguing physical tools. He throws the ball with good zip, can escape pressure in the pocket, and is creative making unscripted plays out of system. The key negative is that he's a very raw QB. He has mechanical issues as a passer and does not have an advanced ability to read the coverage and make reliable decisions. He has developmental upside, but he also has a considerable bust factor if drafted very early.

Consequently, I currently only grade Ward as a middle round prospect. As with all of these QBs, they have an entire season of college football to play. Ward has only played at the FBS level for one year, so maybe he can show improvement in his 2nd year at WSU.

Zach Wilson in 2022 had a 46.5 PFF grade. He has started 22 NFL games and has thrown 15 TDs and 18 INTs, with a passer rating of 70.9, a lousy 55.2% completion rate, an anemic 6.4 yards per attempt, plus a high 9.7% sack rate. It is impossible for me to even list a comparison to illustrate how bad his stats have been, because Wilson was literally the worst qualifying QB in the NFL during 2021 and 2022. There is no other QB to use as a comparison, Wilson is at the very bottom. We have to go back to 2018 to find QBs with passer ratings that poor and there were 2 such players: Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, both rookies. Yes, Josh Allen was mostly garbage as a rookie. Josh Rosen isn't currently in the NFL, he is a street free agent. Rosen went from being a top 10 pick to being a player that teams apparently aren't interested in even auditioning for a 3rd string QB job.