Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.
Jimmie Ward wasn't a great draft pick as far as I'm concerned. Trent Baalke pulled the trigger on a player they didn't know how to use. They pulled the trigger on a player who didn't have a true position in the NFL, and nothing the coaching staff did implied they had any idea either. For some reason, Baalke was intrigued and went with his gut and to this day I maintain it was a mistake.
But not all mistakes have bad endings. Not all mistakes are final. While Baalke had no idea what he was doing when he picked Ward, somehow, someway, something clicked for the young defender and he really came into his own last season. He performed very well as a corner, well enough to insert himself into the starting competition this offseason.
I won't say Baalke was wrong in his evaluation by any stretch of the imagination. He saw a player with talent and I never thought he was wrong about that. He just got lucky when Ward finally started to realize his talent.
Ward was a shutdown corner nearer the end of the season. During a four-game stretch, he allowed just a 44.6 passer rating when targeted, and he was targeted frequently. He finally looked like a threat on defense and personally, I fully expect him to earn a starting role heading into next season. He's fast, he's smart and he reacts very well, not prone to long stretches of struggles .. at least as of last season.
Ward is entering the third year of his four-year rookie contract. He will earn a base salary of $1,066,594, and his cap hit will be $1,939,781. Next offseason, the team will have to decide whether to exercise his fifth year option. The option salary is determined based on what position he plays the majority of his snaps in year three, so any potential switch to safety this year would impact it.
Why he might improve
Ward just found his rhythm. He found his groove. More importantly, he found confidence. The guy was annihilated out of the gate when he was drafted and I imagine that wore on him pretty heavily. He's got the confidence he needs to compete now, and hopefully he will be playing cornerback. He's still young and there is every reason to believe he'll continue his development into a worthy player.
Why he might regress
As far as the NFL is concerned, Ward has more bad tape than he has good tape. Couple that with the fact that the only defensive coordinator he's found success with in the NFL is gone and he has to learn a new defensive scheme, Ward could be back to square one. It's also a crowded group of corners, and if Ward is forced into a position he's not comfortable in, he could also find himself regressing.
Odds of making the roster
He's obviously making the roster and will probably be a starter. 100 percent chance at this point, which if you asked me a year ago, I would have been suggesting his time on the 49ers is nearing its end.