The Raiders added depth along the line Friday by selecting defensive end Jihad Ward from Illinois with the No. 44 overall pick.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Ward is considered a versatile lineman who can play both ends spots and kick inside to tackle as well. ESPN reported after his selection that Ward may need arthroscopic knee surgery that could sideline him for six weeks.
“If I need to get it checked out again, we can check it out,” Ward said on a conference call of his knee. “I don’t want to be at camp or on the field and the next thing we know my knee is messed up. If they want me to get it checked out, we can get it checked out.”
Ward said he had a small tear of the meniscus in his right knee during his senior year at Illinois that was supposed to cost him the first two games of the season. But after having arthroscopic surgery, he bounced back quicker than expected and was on the field by the season opener.
Ward played two seasons at Illinois and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection after transferring from a junior college. He played mostly wide receiver and defensive back in high school and was a tight end initially in junior college before shifting to defensive end.
He’s more of an upside selection that figures to be a rotational player at defensive end, at least early in his career. Ward could have a similar role as last year’s second round pick Mario Edwards Jr., whose status remains uncertain following his neck injury from last year.
“I can play either side,” Ward said of his defensive end role. “Talking to them, I would do anything I could do to make the team better. Three technique or inside pass rush or setting the edge, I want to win.
Ward grew up in poverty, as highlighted in a recent MMQB story that described his rough road at Globe Institute of Technology, a junior college in New York where he at times had to sneak onto subways as part of his 24.5-mile daily commute that included three miles on foot and a ferry ride. He wore No. 17 in college because that was his mother’s age when he was born.
His junior season with Illinois was his more effective one, at least statistically. He had three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss that year but had just 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss as a senior.
“Everybody knows that I didn’t have good numbers last season,” Ward said. “But it’s all about getting better at it. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and make sure you don’t have the mistakes again. I’m here to learn from the vets out there.”
Ward’s length, effort and quickness are considered to be his strength and his had a strong NFL scouting combine in February that boosted his stock.