The San Francisco 49ers are less than three months away from the start of training camp, and so the time has come once again for our 90-in-90 series. For those new to the site since last summer, each year we do 90 posts on each member of the 90-man roster. It is not the deep dive we’ll do with some players, but rather is a chance to reintroduce the roster to people. Some players are completely off a lot of people’s radars, while others are plenty obvious. The idea is to 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.
I thought we would kick things off with a player who has gotten plenty of headlines this offseason, defensive back Jimmie Ward. He began his 49ers career in 2014 as the team’s nickel back. He spent his first two seasons in that role, although an aggravation of a college foot injury cost him the final eight games of the 2014 season.
In 2016, Ward was moved from nickel back to one the outside cornerback roles opposite Tramaine Brock. He missed three games in October with a quadricep injury, and then missed the final two games of the season with a shoulder injury. Injuries remain the biggest concern with regard to Ward.
When healthy in 2016, Ward was arguably the 49ers best cornerback. One issue was the lack of big plays. He has one interception each of the past two seasons, but pass breakups have not been there with regularity. Pro Football Focus has a statistic called “Playmaker Percentage,” which looks at interceptions and pass breakups per target. Ward was at 8.0 percent last season, which was below the NFL average of 9.9 percent. Marcus Peters led the league at 18.8 percent.
Now, Ward is set to move to safety. Prior to the draft, the 49ers said he would get a look there, but would not commit to anything. The team ended up not drafting a safety prior to a potential hybrid option in the seventh round. That coupled with the selection of Ahkello Witherspoon would suggest Ward is going to have the single high safety role in this new-look defense.
Age: 25 (26 on July 18)
Experience: 3 accrued seasons
Weight: 193 lbs
On fourth year of four-year deal. 49ers picked up fifth year option a week ago. His 2017 base salary is $690,000, and he has a roster bonus of $677,390 and workout bonus of $22,500. His cap hit will be $2,263,077. His 2018 base salary and cap hit are $8,526,000, based on the fifth-year option.
Why he might improve in 2017
Ward did a lot of slot work in college, but his natural position was safety. He’ll have the opportunity to range a bit more while covering a huge role on the back end of the defense. This is a better use of his skills, and ideally he is able to take a step forward as the 49ers safety. I’m not counting on the second coming of Earl Thomas, but if he can take a step in that direction, I would be pleased.
Why he might regress in 2017
Injuries are the primary concern. He played a full season in 2015, but in 2014 he played eight games and in 2016 he played 11 games. My biggest regression concern is health. However, it is also possible his move back to a safety role doesn’t take. I am actually not too pessimistic about that, but a new role, even a return to a college role does raise the issue of making the necessary adjustments. But my biggest concern remains health.
Odds of making the roster
There are a lot of question marks about the 49ers roster, but Jimmie Ward is not going anywhere. Very few players are 100 percent to be on the roster, but I would think Ward is in that discussion. He is a talented defensive back, and couple that with the fact that the team did not make any moves to add further significant depth at free safety, and it seems like he is a lock for the role in 2017.