Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie stayed attacking the defensive side of the ball in the second round, selecting Illini defensive lineman Jihad Ward with the 44th overall selection.
Ward, like the Raiders 14th overall pick Karl Joseph, did not attend the draft. While Joseph was in Haiti with his family, Ward elected to stay back in Illinois because he didn't want to miss class as he is scheduled to graduate this Spring.
"I got the news, I was at my d line coach house with the rest of the d lineman," Ward said in a conference call after being picked. "I was waiting for that phone call, and I’m officially a Raider. I still can’t believe it… wow."
The 6-foot-6, 297 pound player used to be a wide receiver and safety in junior college before he outgrew the position and decided to switch to play defensive lineman.
"I was playing wide receiver and defensive back at the time, and I started learning defensive end my senior year of high school and it just kept developing as I got bigger," Ward said. "After getting heavier and heavier, just maintaining my speed, and I was really a d-lineman going on in JUCO, so I was just sticking with it and sticking with it. I'm still learning the game."
Now, Ward is hoping to bring his versatility to the Raiders, willing to do anything to help the team win.
"I can play either side," Ward said. "After talking with them, I will do anything I can to make the team better - three technique, inside, pass rush, or setting the edge. I want to win. I will do everything in my power to win. Put me at tackle, I'll play. They want me to set the edge, I will set the edge for them. I am just here to be a part of the team and make the team great."
Ward suffered a knee injury last season but doesn't expect it to be a problem.
"I had a little knee injury earlier in the season, actually got better," Ward said. "They said I was going to miss four games with that and come to find out I was back the first game... I'm 100 percent clean on that one. I'm pretty good. I'm healthy."