2024 NFL Draft: Washington State QB Cameron Ward Trending Toward the Round 1 Ranks

2024 NFL Draft: Washington State QB Cameron Ward Trending Toward the Round 1 Ranks
Video cam ward draft

Past Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, it’s anyone’s guess who populates the Round 1 QB group in the 2024 NFL Draft. Could Washington State’s Cameron Ward be a first-round sleeper after his hot start to the 2023 campaign? Let’s take a closer look.

Washington State’s Cameron Ward on a Torrid Pace in 2023

The Pac-12 is loaded with future NFL signal-callers. We all know about Williams at USC. And elsewhere, passers like Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., and Oregon’s Bo Nix have all been referenced in the 2024 NFL Draft early-round discussion.

Nevertheless, there’s another QB who must be included with these contenders: Ward at Washington State.

Ward did well in his first season at Washington State in 2022. After transferring from the FCS program Incarnate Word, Ward completed 320 of 497 pass attempts for 3,232 yards, 23 touchdowns, and nine interceptions as a redshirt sophomore.

Ward chose to return to school for the 2023 campaign, and in just four games, he’s shown notable development year-over-year. To start 2023, Ward has completed 105 of 141 attempts (74.5%) for 1,389 yards, 13 touchdowns, and no interceptions.

The Cougars’ QB has been immaculate to start the year, and in Week 4 against Oregon State, he was near-perfect – completing 28 of 34 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns.

In this week’s edition of the 2024 NFL Draft Scouting Spotlight, we’ll take a closer look at Ward’s performance against Oregon State and pinpoint some of the traits and progressions that make him an early-round QB prospect.

Scouting Spotlight: How Has Ward Grown in 2023?

Ward is a young QB who’s still growing, but certain parts of his game have always been stable in his evaluation.

First and foremost, Ward is a high-level creator working out of the pocket. He doesn’t have great speed or pure running value, but he is a very agile and fluid mover with great change-of-direction, short-area twitch, and hip flexibility.

On top of those mobility traits, Ward also has quantifiably elite arm elasticity. He can freely adjust his arm angle to manipulate launch trajectories and throwing windows, and it also helps him maintain velocity and accuracy off-platform.

You see all of the aforementioned qualities, to varying extents, in the play below, where Ward turns a pressure into a solid gain on first down.

Now this is vintage Cameron Ward — the root of his appeal dating all the way back to his Incarnate Word days.

Smooth ball handling, swift hip flexibility, and effortless off-platform ability. Look how stable his eyes and shoulders are as he redirects outside the pocket. pic.twitter.com/6ZkTc0HLym

— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) October 3, 2023

Ward is agile, fluid, and adaptable – and even more impressive is his shoulder and head stability as he changes directions and escapes into the flat. That’s always been the top selling point of Ward’s game: His creation capacity and off-platform ability.

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In Week 4, however, Ward did most of his damage inside the pocket as a pocket operator. He provided excitement for evaluators, hoping to see more maturity and discretion from him in structure this year.

Of course, maturity as a passer – both mechanical and mental – often comes as a byproduct of more experience. But there are also other qualities of QB play that mental and mechanical maturity unlock: Accuracy, situational precision, and anticipation, among others.

Ward’s Week 4 showing put all of these traits on full display. We’ll start with the play below. It’s a quick drop, and the spread formation isolates Ward’s right boundary WR with a 1-on-1 matchup. Ward identifies the 1-on-1 quickly and triggers the throw at the top of his drop.

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Ward’s decisiveness is a nice element in this play, but it’s his anticipation that’s truly promising. This isn’t an overly complex play, but the anticipation of both placement and breaks is an important element of 50-50 passes, and Ward does very well with that here.

He anticipates his WR breaking back to the ball and allows the WR to manipulate the DB into committing upfield.

Sometimes, operating the passing game is just about isolating one-on-one matchups and giving your WR a chance with effective timing and accuracy.

Cameron Ward does a stellar job anticipating the back-shoulder placement here. pic.twitter.com/uZ85cqNPuY

— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) October 3, 2023

The next throw is another great example of Ward’s anticipation working the boundary. This time, it’s in a high-pressure situation.

It’s 3rd-and-10, and Washington State needs to keep the momentum going to avoid letting Oregon State close the gap on their 14-7 lead.

Ward takes the snap. It’s a three-step drop, then a hitch. Then he fires. Ward wastes no time and doesn’t hold the ball too long – something he did too often in 2022.

He immediately identifies the isolated 1-on-1 match up to the right and releases the football well before the WR starts his break back toward the ball. Ward’s efficient timing and anticipation maximize the WR’s space after the catch and ultimately makes a first down a touchdown.

Another great in-structure display from Cameron Ward — on 3rd and 10, no less.

Again, isolates a one-on-one matchup on the boundary. Steps up in the pocket and anticipates the break, releasing even before the WR retracts his strides. pic.twitter.com/QDmEXpASHQ

— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) October 3, 2023

In 2022, Ward lived off his ability to create, but sometimes to a fault. He’d sometimes be indecisive in the pocket and hold the ball too long — thus creating unsavory situations that his creation capacity was required to remedy.

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This year, Ward is much more effective working from the pocket and operating as a pocket passer, and that’s extremely exciting – because he has the arm talent and the situational accuracy to dice up defenses from that realm.

If you now direct your attention to the play below, you’ll see Ward using this situational accuracy and his newfound mechanical control to once again win a 50-50 opportunity.

Once again, Ward identifies a 1-on-1 matchup on the boundary. At the top of his drop, he tilts his shoulder up to add loft on the pass. And with a crisp release, he’s able to drop the ball into a tight bucket down the field.

The pass is a hair behind the WR, to be sure. But Ward knows that because the DB lost a step off the release and is trailing, it’ll be harder for him to get his head back around. He uses the DB’s occluded line of sight to his advantage and lets his WR make a play.

Cameron Ward bucket throw from the opposite hash to the numbers — using controlled shoulder tilt to heft the pass over trailing defenders. pic.twitter.com/maoE6o6JaQ

— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) October 3, 2023

The next throw is a similar display of opportunity identification and situational precision. But this one – Ward’s last touchdown of the outing – is especially enticing because he mixes in some of his arm elasticity and angle freedom to make the play happen.

The framework of the play is the same as before. Boundary 1-on-1. Quick, decisive throw from Ward. But this time, he barely adds any shoulder tilt to the pass. Instead, look at his arm angle on his release.

Ward almost sidearms this throw to better get under it. In doing so, he’s able to layer pace and touch while fitting the ball past the trailing defender.

The ball has the velocity to streak past, is high enough to prevent the defender from making a play, but also falls just within the WR’s reach, where only he can catch it.

This type of elite situational precision is reserved for QBs with a certain tier of composite arm talent. And Ward, with his all-encompassing arm elasticity, has that kind of talent.

Last year, he was a bit reckless and inconsistent with how he used it. But this year, improved discipline and decisiveness are both agents in weaponizing his arm elasticity within the pocket, with devastating results for defenses.

Cameron Ward’s fourth and final touchdown of the day against Oregon State. Yet another clinic on situational precision.

Especially like how he uses the obtuse arm angle to get under the throw more, and layer it over the trailing DB. pic.twitter.com/USqItfzV7K

— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) October 3, 2023

The best part is: Ward knows he’s legit.

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The throws shown so far make it clear that Ward is more than willing to test tight windows. But no window in Week 4 was tighter than the one below: A slot fade with virtually no space to work.

This is almost perfect coverage from the defender, and Ward still manages to whisk the ball into a microscopic pocket, which only his WR can reach. Moreover, the pass has the arc to swing over the defender’s shoulder and avoid any type of obstruction.

Ward could do a better job keeping his eyes forward on the dropback to hold the safety, but that’s the only knock on this play.

This throw has the perfect amount of “I’m that guy” energy. QBs always have to be measured decision-makers, but only the best QBs — the ones with the requisite arm talent and risk propensity — are willing to take these kinds of calculated gambles.

Ward knows he has the arm talent to make this throw. He doesn’t hesitate. And he proves himself right.

This throw from Cameron Ward is absurd.

Decision making isn’t just about minimizing negative outcomes. It’s also about having the confidence to take risks you *know* you have the ability to take.

This is a pure confidence throw, placed to absolute perfection. pic.twitter.com/YCqdSEp8Ez

— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) October 3, 2023

There’s still more for Ward to improve. There was a ball security lapse against Oregon State, where Ward let himself get stripped while sneaking through a gap upfield. Overall, he can still be a bit more disciplined when going through multiple-progression reads.

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But overall, what Ward has shown in 2023 is extremely promising. He always has the elite arm elasticity and the high-level creation capacity to be an intriguing QB prospect. In 2023, however, he seems to be taking the next step.

Ward is becoming a true early-round QB talent, and if he can outduel Nix, Sanders, and Penix down the road, it could solidify his standing as a potential Round 1 passer.