Let’s be honest. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of San Francisco 49ers DB Jimmie Ward is ‘bust.’ A player that was drafted in the first-round (No. 30) last year, many Forever Faithful have raised the question whether or not Ward can remain healthy for a full 16-game schedule and actually make an impact on the field.
A diminutive player as Ward stands just 5-11 while weighing 193 pounds, it quickly became apparent that he would struggle against the bigger, stronger, and faster wide-receivers in the NFL. Whether covering the slot or being outmuscled on jump balls, Ward was a big liability in pass-coverage his rookie season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ward ranked tied for third worst on the team in pass-coverage as he finished with a -3.1 grade on 270 snaps played. Something that should be a concern considering the team drafted Ward to specifically cover the sl0t, it remains to be seen if Ward can bounce back from his injury plagued rookie season. However, he does have the skill set to excel, which is why I believe all is not lost for the Northern Illinois product.
We all remember the Chicago Bears game in which Ward was basically thrown under fire as he went up against Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall. A game-plan that saw Ward matched up one-on-one with Marshall in the slot in their nickel package, it was Marshall who put on a show as he finished with five catches for 48 yards and three touchdowns.
Fast forward to 2015, and I believe that Ward will fare much better in 2015.
Ward was dealing with a Jones fracture in his right foot last year which caused him to miss half the season. An injury that often swells up while making it difficult to walk, Ward played through the pain as best he could. Not to mention, he bent a screw in his foot during a Week 10 matchup against the Saints, which required a 10-week recovery time, there is no question that Ward was less than 100 percent in 2014.
Now that Ward has fully recovered from that injury, the ‘bust’ label should go away as he has the range, quick burst, and ball skills to make an immediate impact.
The slot cornerback spot is his to lose and with 49ers GM Trent Baalke selecting the small-school kid, it would be hard for me to believe that he won’t have that job to start the season.
He has elite balls skills as he knows how to high-point the ball, so making plays shouldn’t be a problem for him. Where the problem lies is whether he can turn his hips fluidly while staying stride for stride with the quicker receivers of the NFL.
During last year’s training camp I saw Ward struggle one-on-one against the smaller yet faster wide-receivers. Whether giving up inside leverage or outside leverage, Ward looked out of sync as he was unable to make a play. Could that be in large part to his Jones fracture? Possibly. Because when you put on the game-film the tape doesn’t lie, and Ward has shown flashes of his playmaking ability at both the college and NFL level.
With Ward fully recovered from his foot injury, I can’t help but think that he won’t be much improved, as I believe he will finish the 2015 season with a stat line around 40 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass break-ups.