Sakamoto: 49ers’ DB Jimmie Ward Gets Starting Nod At Strong Safety

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When the San Francisco 49ers drafted DB Jimmie Ward in the first-round (No. 30) of the 2014 NFL Draft, it was a head-scratcher by many. A team that already had proven starters FS Eric Reid and SS Antoine Bethea — the addition of Ward made little sense from an outsider’s perspective. However, 49ers’ GM Trent Baalke loved what he saw from the Northern Illinois product as he envisioned his new addition in a slot corner role.

However, Ward struggled during his rookie campaign as a nagging right foot injury along with learning the nuances of the NFL game was all a learning process. “I felt like I was learning the league,” Ward said at the end of last year.

But that didn’t stop the coaching staff from believing in their first-round pick. Back in March, I said that Ward will turn heads in 2015 while having a bounce back sophomore season. Why? Because I thought he had the intangibles to do so. He has elite ball-skills and his film-study has proven to be a great aid for him on game days as he read plays pre-snap. 

Fast forward to today and Ward has been one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL during these past three weeks according to Pro Football Focus. 

Now, it appears that Ward will have a new challenge as he will be starting at strong safety in place of childhood friend and teammate SS Jaquiski Tartt.

Something that I alluded to over a week ago, as I thought Ward was better suited to play on the backend of the team’s 3-4 defense, Ward will now get his shot as he goes back to his more natural position. To be honest, I feel that free-safety is where he is skill-set matches him best, but to see him come up in run support and be able to cover the deep-third and quarters should be fun to watch under DC Eric Mangini’s hybrid 3-4 scheme.

A very similar player to what Mangini had while in New England as Illinois product FS Eugene Wilson stormed out of the gates during his first two seasons with 8 interceptions and 16 pass break-ups, look for Ward to have a similar stat sheet if he remains at safety as they both stand 5-10, 195-200, with a knack for the football.

Mangini was asked on Thursday, which players he thought were coming along and can be building blocks for the foreseeable future and he did not hesitate to point out No. 25. “Well, one guy that stands out right away is [DB] Jimmie Ward,” Mangini told beat writers.

“Jimmie has played inside at the star position, done a really good job with that and I think he’s gotten better and better as the weeks have gone on. Now, we’ve also had to ask him to learn all the safety roles, be able to play those roles. And, he’s worked at both spots and his ability now to see the defense and the offense from a full field, both down low and behind I think has been really positive. Love his energy. Love his approach, his work ethic.”

In 15 games this season, Ward has recorded 47 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 interception (returned for TD), and five pass break-ups.

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.