With Lamar Jackson On Deck, Greg Ward Ponders on What Might Have Been
PHILADELPHIA - Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens will make the short trek up I-95 this weekend as significant favorites. And while you can't really consider Greg Ward the leader of the Eagles, the Philadelphia slot receiver is familiar with being an underdog to the reigning NFL MVP and finding a way to persevere.
Back in 2016 Ward was the star quarterback at the University of Houston when his Cougars were set to visit Louisville. At the time the Cardinals were 9-1, No. 5 in the country and Jackson was perhaps the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. The result was 36-10 Cougars rout with Ward outplaying the marquee player in the country.
“I have a lot of memories from that game,” Ward admitted via video conference earlier this week. "Every time I see (Jackson), I talk to him about it. We talked about it last summer when we scrimmaged them (at the NovaCare Complex in joint practices). I was messing with him about the game.”
While Ward is really good in that game, finishing 25-for-44 for 283 passing yards, it was actually the Houston defense that was the real star, harassing the dynamic Jackson and sacking him 11 times.
Even then, however, Ward knew what his future was in the NFL. At just 5-foot-11 and without the conventional drop-back passing skills most teams craved, he would spend time after every practice running routes and sharpening his receiving skills.
That dedication turned Ward from star dual-threat signal-caller with the Cougars to NFL slot receiver in under three years, albeit with 16 transactions and a trip to the now-defunct Alliance of American Football in between.
"Sometimes just coming from certain colleges, you don't get the recognition and whatever else situation it is, everybody has a different story, but the business side of it we all know," Ward said. "... But just like I said, whenever you do get the opportunity, which you don't have many, honestly you only need one. So whenever you get it, just run with it."
As dynamic as Jackson was in college, he was questioned by some talent evaluators and went No. 32 overall in the 2018 draft, ironically the Eagles' selection before they traded out.
In hindsight, Jackson should have been a top-five selection in the mix with players like Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Sam Darnold, Denzel Ward, and Bradley Chubb.
Jackson's success - 3,127 passing yards with 36 touchdowns and another 1,206 rushing yards and seven more TDs in 2019, plus a record of 23-4 so far as an NFL starter, albeit with some disappointing playoff difficulties to date - has many pointing to Jackson as the template for the modern quarterback.
The problem there is few in history have married Jackson's brand of athleticism with capable quarterbacking skills. Perhaps only Michael Vick compares from a physical perspective.
Ward was asked if things might have been different for him had Jackson's NFL success come first.
“Who knows?" said Ward. "Maybe so. I don’t know.”
What Ward did know, however, is that Jackson could play QB at this level.
“Dude was a baller,” Ward said. “He's a dog, always had that underdog mentality. He's going out there and proving himself.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM and every Monday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportsMap Radio. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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