Depending on who you ask, the 49ers are likely to address depth at the safety position at some point in the first three rounds. Heck, with six picks spanning that period, Trent Baalke could call it a day after round three and come away with quite a stash of young talent that either fills a void or adds depth. One prospect that could do both is safety Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois.
Arm Length: 31"
Hands: 9 3/8"
40 yard dash: 4.47*
Broad Jump: 10'5"*
3-cone drill: 6.89*
*Unofficial times from Ward's pro day according to CBSSports.com. Ward missed the combine in February due to a foot injury.
- One of the better instinctual DBs in the draft. Reads the flow of the play well and locates ball carrier quickly while exploding to the lane. Weather it's filling the run lane or tipping the ball away from a receiver, Ward seems to always be around the ball.
- Very technically sound. Being smaller, Ward has clearly spent time refining his technique in just about every phase of the game from locating and deflecting the ball to tackling.
- Versatility. Ward can play both safety positions and even corner having lined up as NIU's nickel corner in 3WR looks.
- Size is a concern when facing bigger receivers or tight ends.
- Strength. Ward finished second to last in the bench during February's combine. While it's not the biggest concern for DBs Ward may struggle to match physicality of some big bodied playmakers.
- One of the bigger questions marks is his ability to play in the box in the NFL. He was successful at NIU but his small stature and lack of strength may prevent him from shedding blocks at or near the line of scrimmage.
Doing your homework:
Check out Ward here in NIU's bowl game against Utah State. You can see other games against Akron, Ball State, Western Michigan, Toledo from 2013 and Florida State from 2012 over at DraftBreakdown.com
What others are saying:
- ESPN's Mel Kiper said of Ward: "He's a true ballhawk. He's underrated in terms of tackling and enforcing. I think he's a very good player, very underrated player."
- Frank Cooney of The Sports Exchange said: "Ward has football smarts and puts himself in position to succeed, using his speed and range to cover the deep half of the field."
Why he fits:
We tend to think of a strong safety as a chiseled, strong, big hitting man that strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who dare come over the middle. The 49ers, however, have had tremendous success with just the opposite. Both Donte Whitner and Antoine Bethea are 5'11" and both are around 206lbs. Ward could stand to add a few pounds to his frame and it's likely he will once he gets into an NFL workout routine. Point is the 49ers are probably not going to view Ward's size as an issue.
The 49ers secondary has been known for it's versatility and tackling. Ward embodies both of those traits as he can play from any spot on the field and rarely misses a tackle. He would benefit from a system that will take advantage of his ability to cover the slot; a position the 49ers may still be looking to fill.
Why he doesn't fit:
While Ward seems to fit nicely he may be too expensive. Not too expensive salary-wise but unless the 49ers plan to use their first round pick on him, Ward will likely be gone by the time they pick in the second. If he's to end up in San Francisco a trade up into the second round might be what it takes to land him assuming he doesn't go in round one.
With other, more immediate, needs at cornerback, wide receiver, and possibly pass rusher the 49ers may wait to add depth at safety.
Ward is one of my favorite prospects and if he were 2-3 inches taller he'd be a slam-dunk first round pick. Ward can just about do it all when it comes to coverage and defending the run. Some might be concerned about the level of competition he faced in college but Ward was consistently one of the best defensive players on the field during the week-long Senior Bowl workouts in January.
If Ward were to somehow fall to the 49ers in the second round it would be a major steal.