The San Francisco 49ers did the unthinkable tonight. Not only did they stay pat at No. 30 in the first-round but they drafted the best player available on their board. That player ended up being FS Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois University. At 5-10 and 193 pounds Ward is a little bit undersized to be a true safety in this league but NFL analyst Mike Mayock believes he can play the slot. A player that took pre-draft visits to the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, and Houston Texans, Ward was highly sought after as a late first-round prospect.
A very solid zone cover free-safety, he fits DC Vic Fangio’s scheme to a tee. He’s aggressive and has good route recognition allowing him to be savvy enough to either attack the ball or the man when the ball’s in flight. A very versatile defensive back with the mean streak to play near the line of scrimmage, Ward reminds me of a poor man’s FS Earl Thomas.
Ward did not participate at the NFL scouting combine due to a small fracture in his foot, but he did have a strong showing at his Pro Day. A Pro Day that saw Ward wow scouts with his 38-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump, and a blazing 4.48 40-yard dash, those numbers would have ranked among the top two for the safety position. And while his bench press work was less than stellar as he was only able to knock out nine reps which was second lowest among defensive backs, Ward’s game-film speaks for itself. In GM Trent Baalke’s presser tonight, he spoke on his new first-round pick even saying he’s a better cover player than SS Donte Whitner as he said, “Jimmie has more coverage ability.”
In addition, Baalke also said that Ward would be in competition for that starting nickel cornerback role. A role that Baalke believes to be a starting role as that position requires 60 percent of the snaps. Baalke said, “He’s got energy. The stage isn’t going to be too big for him.” Asked if he saw Ward up close and personal Baalke said, “In Detroit against Bowling Green, Conference Championship Game.”
A tough player with the a competitive attitude to match, is what ultimately landed Ward on the 49ers squad. “Dynamite comes in all packages. Don’t mistake the size for lack of toughness.”