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49ers rookies: Best case/worst case for Jimmie Ward

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The San Francisco 49ers invested a first round pick in Northern Illinois defensive back Jimmie Ward. We break down some potentially realistic best and worst case scenarios.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers rookies and first year players reported to training camp on Wednesday. "First year players" are those that were in the NFL last season, but were either on the practice squad, or in some other position to not accrue a season of service. I believe that would include Marcus Lattimore.

Quarterbacks and injured players report on Friday, and then the rest of the veterans report next Wednesday, July 23. The 49ers first practice is not until July 24, so with some time until then, I thought I'd put together a short series looking at the 49ers rookies. This series will look at each rookie in terms of the best and worst case scenarios for the 2014 season.

The idea is to come up with a realistic version of the best and worst case scenarios for their rookie seasons. We could say the best case for any is All Pro greatness, while the worst case is washing out and being completely useless. Instead, I'd like to try and consider what could be a reasonable best and worst case scenario.

We'll go in order of their selection, and start with defensive back Jimmie Ward. The 49ers used their first round pick on the Northern Illinois safety, and subsequently announced that he would compete for the nickel back role, while continuing to learn the safety position.

Best Case Scenario

First and foremost, the best case involves Ward being able to practice from day one of training camp. He was limited in the offseason workout program because of his March foot surgery. Coach Harbaugh has said they expect Ward to be ready for training camp, but we're still going to have to wait for that first practice next week.

Assuming full health, it is not out of the realm of the possible for Ward to put together an Eric Reid-type of season. That does not necessarily mean a Pro Bowl selection, but more just a very solid year to build on in his second season. This would include solid work in coverage, sound fundamental tackling and support in the run game.

It's pretty simple really. Just a guy who does not look like he's struggling to keep his head above water. I'm sure some would be hoping for the world, getting All Pro nods and racking up the interceptions. While I would certainly be amenable to that, I'm also willing to be a little more realistic with my own optimism.

Worst Case Scenario

While the best case involves practicing from day one of training camp, the worst case scenario would involve the foot remaining a problem, or potentially involving an aggravation of the injury at some point. Given the importance of footwork for cornerbacks, foot injuries can be especially troublesome. From an injury perspective, that is most concerning for now.

Let's say though that Ward is back for training camp, and the foot injury never bothers him again. In that case, the worse case scenario becomes a situation where Ward struggles hanging with NFL level football players. He did great work at Northern Illinois, which leaves me optimistic he'll be fine at the NFL level. However, given some of the slot receivers he will have to deal with on a weekly basis, it is possible he will not be up to the task. A worst case scenario would see him left to just special teams each week of his rookie year. A slightly better version sees him compete for nickel work, but lose out and get stuck with dime work. That is not the end of the world for a rookie, but if Jimmie Ward cannot beat out Perrish Cox, I think most of us would be pretty disappointed.