Washington State QB Cam Ward is an Intriguing Sleeper in the 2023 NFL Draft

Sep 24, 2022; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) against the Oregon Ducks in the second half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2022; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) against the Oregon Ducks in the second half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington State is sitting at 3-1 on the season and will host Pac-12 rival, the Cal Golden Bears, this weekend. The Cougars head into the matchup led by their new starting quarterback and 2023 NFL Draft prospect Cam Ward.

Cam Ward at Incarnate Word

Ward began his collegiate career with the Incarnate Word Cardinals, which happened to be the only scholarship offer he received out of high school. He started the COVID-shortened 2020 season, leading the FCS in touchdown passes en route to winning the Jerry Rice Award for the most outstanding freshman in NCAAF.

He entered the 2021 season as the full-time starter again, this time leading his Cardinals to a program-altering campaign. He threw for 4,648 passing yards and 47 touchdowns in 13 games, taking his team to their first-ever double-digit winning season. Their previous high for wins in a single season was six.

Due to the weird rules of college football that count sack yards against quarterbacks’ rushing total, Ward doesn’t have much to talk about when it comes to the box score as a rusher. However, it only takes one minute of watching Cam Ward to see his potential as a dual-threat behind center.

To help support that point, Ward actually ran a Wing T offensive scheme in high school. He averaged just over 10 passing attempts per game, using his size and athleticism to abuse defenses with the option attack rather than punishing them downfield with his big arm.

Incarnate Word Film Breakdown

A deep dive into Ward’s tape during his time with the Cardinals showcased some tantalizing potential, but also highlighted the places that Ward must improve if he wants to be an NFL quarterback one day.

First and foremost, Ward’s arm is electric. He isn’t afraid to fit a ball into a tight window or to unload on a bomb way downfield. He possesses a huge frame capable of holding up against stronger defenders, but also is fleet of foot and does well to keep more agile defenders on their toes.

Perhaps my favorite part of his game is how quickly he gets the football out. His throwing motion is short and compact, and the ball comes out of his hand with the zip you expect from a legit NFL prospect. Unfortunately, some of these redeeming qualities cause issues elsewhere in his evaluation.

Ward never lined up under center with Incarnate Word, which will be a red flag for some teams. Much of the offense was RPO based. This is becoming more of a practice in the NFL, but scouts will want to see how Ward looks in other schemes whenever his Pro Day and NFL Draft Scouting Combine rolls around.

By far the biggest issue I found with Ward’s game was his ball placement and touch on throws at all levels. He flat-out missed wide-open receivers on numerous occasions. I counted three such misses in his performance against Youngstown State in 2021, with each one costing his team six points.

To his credit, by the time of their playoff game against Sam Houston State, Ward had grown in leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season. He showed much better accuracy and more often than not he put the ball in the ideal spot for his wide receivers to gain yardage after the catch.

Furthermore, a handful of throws in that same game were put in a place that only his receivers could make a play on the ball. While Ward hasn’t thrown a ton of interceptions in college, he’s never been consistent when it comes to proper ball placement, so this was a promising development.

Cam Ward Transfers to Washington State

Following his successful stint at Incarnate Word, Ward began garnering interest from Power-Five schools. He entered his name into the transfer portal and eventually wound up with the Washington State Cougars.

After parlaying a historic season at Incarnate Word into a starting role at Washington State, Cam Ward has already proven that the coaching staff knew what they were doing by bringing him into the fold.

Even amid a shaky start to the season, Ward has his team sitting at 3-1 following a hard-fought loss to No. 13 ranked Oregon last weekend. He tossed 10 touchdowns in the first four games, adding another on the ground as a runner.

He’s flashed his elite arm strength multiple times on deep shots and has been flexing his improvisation abilities frequently. Ward loves to roll out of the pocket and let a play develop slowly while assessing the field and going through his progressions.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed in the past couple of weeks is the influx of confidence from Cam Ward. The trend of improving as the season goes on is a narrative that has followed Ward his entire playing career, so it’s reasonable to expect that he continues improving throughout the season.

It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows for the talented quarterback. Ward didn’t throw an interception in his debut with the Cougars, but he’s thrown five of them in the last three weeks. The worst of these interceptions came when Oregon returned one to the house, putting an end to the Wazzou upset attempt.

These turnovers are ugly on paper, but when you play the style of football that Ward plays, they come with the territory. Still, to smooth over the concerns of evaluators, he must minimize these turnover-worthy plays.

A look at this play against the Oregon Ducks says all you need to know about Ward’s unique ability to make something out of nothing. Does this result in unnecessary turnovers at times? Sure. Does it also result in jaw-dropping plays like this? Absolutely.

Cam Ward Looks to Build a Strong Resume for the 2023 NFL Draft

The Washington State Cougars are slated to play USC on Oct. 8, so Cam Ward will get a chance to put his talents on display in front of the entire college football world. The Trojan’s defense is susceptible to big plays, and Ward is the perfect guy to step in and challenge for a monster upset in the conference.

As of today, CJ Stroud looks to have a stranglehold on the QB1 mantle for the 2023 NFL Draft. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is the name you regularly see at No. 2. Then there are a few other guys like Will Levis, Hendon Hooker, and Jaren Hall that all are making a charge to challenge the top two at the position.

Cam Ward went from one FCS scholarship to hearing his name mentioned in the same breath as the top prospects I just named. There’s still a long way to go before Ward comes off the board on day one of the NFL Draft, but his arm talent and athletic profile are the real deal.

He’s got another year of eligibility if he chooses to return to college next year, but the draw to the NFL could be too much to pass on, especially if teams show a vested interest in the Cougars starting signal-caller.

The hype train has already left the station, but there’s still time to run and catch it. If his constant improvement throughout each season of his career comes to fruition again in 2022, don’t be surprised if Ward is one of the hottest names when the 2023 NFL Draft draws near.