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Denzel Ward is exactly the player Cleveland needs in 2018

The No. 4-overall pick proved why he is a perfect fit for the Browns.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

“The speed of the game is a little faster, but I do not pay attention too much to that and I do not think it really affected me. I was fine. I was only a little nervous. I was more excited than anything going into it.”

-Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, via Josh Edwards, 247Sports

It was a pleasant surprise for Ohio State fans when the Cleveland Browns took former Buckeye cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. For the rest of the football world, however, the pick looked like a reach. Undoubtedly a first-round talent, Ward was generally considered to be more on the level of the No. 10 overall pick. Many critiqued the Browns--who had taken Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall in another questionable selection--for not taking former NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb, who was taken with the next pick by the Broncos. However, if the first weekend of NFL football is any indication, the Browns made the right decision in taking Ward.

Despite coming off an 0-16 season, there is a resurgence of hope for Cleveland football, with most analysts predicting that the Browns will win at least a few games in 2018 (it can only go up from here, after all). Still, starting the season with what has been a lopsided rival in a downpour seemed a poor way to spark the miraculous comeback. Nonetheless, the Browns managed the unthinkable versus the Steelers: A tie.

A big part of the reason that Cleveland managed to stay competitive with--and even come back against--its perennial rival was its ability to dominate the turnover battle. The Browns finished with a +5 turnover margin. Key to this success was Ward, who, in his first professional start, pulled in two interceptions against Ben Roethlisberger. Ward also recorded three pass deflections and six tackles. His only real error on the day came on a 22-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown, whom Ward had been defending. For a rookie going up against a six-time Pro Bowler in Brown, it’s still a pretty good day. And at this rate, Ward could be well on his way to filling the shoes of former Ohio State teammate and fellow cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season.

Former Ohio State women’s basketball star Kelsey Mitchell can add another accolade to her long list of achievements, as she was one of five first-year players named to the 2018 WNBA All-Rookie team. Mitchell, a guard for the Indiana Fever, joins Washington Mystics forward Ariel Atkins, Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields, Dallas Wings forward/center Azura Stevens and Las Vegas Aces forward/center A’Ja Wilson. All five rookies were taken within the first seven picks of the 2018 WNBA Draft in April.

Mitchell finished her career at Ohio State last season as the NCAA’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 3,402 points. She remains the only freshman to lead Division I in scoring, and is also top of the list for career made three-pointers. A four-time All-American during her time in Columbus, Mitchell was consistently the best player in the Big Ten throughout her career, thrice earning conference player of the year honors.

The Fever finished the season with a 6-28 record, good for last place in the Eastern Conference. Mitchell, however, proved to be a spark for the team. The rookie started 17 games for Indiana, but played in all 34 matchups this season. Her 12.7 points were good for second on the team and third among rookies in the league. Mitchell has also been continuing her strong shooting from range, tallying 70 three-pointers this past season.

While the WNBA season is winding down as playoffs conclude, Mitchell and the other top WNBA stars are set to start their run at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, scheduled to start Sept. 22. Mitchell is part of a 19-person roster which features both collegiate and professional players. Only three of the current Team USA members have previous World Cup experience, having played on the U.S.’s title team in 2014.

“I feel Coach Day is going to put me in the best situation when I go out there. Whenever that is is really up to him. I feel they know how to use me, and whatever they do is what they do.”

-Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell, via Bill Landis, Cleveland.com

It’s always a relief when the starting quarterback can exit the game midway through the third quarter with a comfortable lead and the chance to give backups much-needed experience. Saturday, quarterback Dwayne Haskins, in just his second start, put the Buckeyes up 42-3 before taking a seat on the bench, giving way to Tate Martell.

In less than two quarters, Martell showed enough offensive firepower to earn Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors. He went 10-for-10 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown. He added 95 yards rushing and yet another touchdown on the ground. While it is easy to label Martell’s efforts as a successfully executed clean-up duty, he showed a lot of poise in the face of adversity, especially when he went down briefly in the fourth quarter after a late hit out of bounds. After sitting out a snap, Martell demonstrated that he was back in form, scrambling for a 47-yard touchdown which would prove to be the final points of the game.

Martell has seen playing time in both of Ohio State’s matchups this season. On both occasions, he did not enter the game until it was already well in hand for his team. However, given his skillset--one which is so different from that of Haskins--it could make sense for the more junior quarterback to see meaningful action in tandem with the first-team offense. While Haskins would still take the lion’s share of snaps, Martell could be available as a supplement for certain packages. The upside is increasing Martell’s game-time experience and diversifying the quarterback position in terms of passing and rushing ability. The downside is that, if one of the quarterbacks goes down or gets fatigued, there are not a lot of options behind the front two to fill the backup role.

Beyond this season, Haskins has two years of eligibility remaining in Columbus, but, if a conference championship and playoff run are in the cards for the Buckeyes this season, he could leave as early as this spring. Grooming Martell to take over the starting role, then, becomes that much more time-sensitive.

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