As Mooney Ward was jogging off the field on Sunday, there was a video that went viral of John Lynch embracing the 49ers’ prized free-agent signing and dropping a “worth every penny.”
It got me thinking back to the day that the 49ers signed Charvarius “Mooney” Ward, giving him a 3-year, $42M deal. At the same time, most had assumed that the 49ers would target either J.C. Jackson — the eye of everyone’s apples — or Stephon Gilmore — the aging veteran who was a former Defensive Player of the Year.
The 49ers shocked most, adding the former Chief for an expensive but not break-the-bank type deal.
Through training camp and preseason, all the reports that came out of 49ers’ HQ in Santa Clara were that Ward was nails in coverage, strapping anyone and everyone who was lined up in front of him.
Most had no idea what the 49ers’ corner was capable of because they hadn’t seen much of Ward up until he stepped on the field in Week 1 in Chicago. But through five games, he’s been playing like one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.
The 49ers’ No. 1 corner leads the NFL in passes defensed (7). This is his best attribute and something the 49ers desperately coveted after last season when their corner play wasn’t great. Ward capped it off on Sunday with four passes defended, saving multiple touchdowns in the end zone against the Panthers’ wide receivers.
Passes Broken Up, CBs, Weeks 1-5:— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) October 10, 2022
1. Mooney Ward, 7
2. Trevon Diggs, 6
3. Desmond King, 5
4. Sauce Gardner, 4
Mooney Ward leads the NFL in PBUs and is also the third-highest graded corner in coverage. One of the best free-agent signings this season.
As a result, Ward also leads the NFL in forced incompletion rate — which looks at how many passes Ward has broken up relative to how many times he’s been targeted.
Not only has the defensive back been stout against the pass, he’s been fantastic against the run. The 49ers ask a lot of their corners in the run game, and one of their key responsibilities is to tackle (and hit) in space against running backs.
In the Panthers’ opening drive, Ward deflected a pass vs. D.J. Moore on second down, then made a solo tackle against Christian McCaffrey on third-and-short on the edge. Just a perfect two-play sequence that encapsulates what Ward is as a player.
How good has Mooney Ward been?— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) October 10, 2022
Opening throw of the game, Demeco Ryans has Mooney Ward in man coverage against D.J. Moore (one of the better WRs in the NFL) on an island.
Ward plasters Moore and also deflects the ball at the catch point. Elite, elite stuff. pic.twitter.com/80kQn2QD5q
Pro Football Focus rates Ward as the No. 1 highest-graded corner while also rating him the third-best corner in coverage and the second-best corner against the run. No corner is Top-5 in both categories except for Mooney Ward.
Coverage Grade, PFF, Weeks 1-5:— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) October 10, 2022
1. Stephon Gilmore, 82.8
2. Jamel Dean, 81.8
3. Mooney Ward, 81.5
Run Defense Grade, PFF, Weeks 1-5:
1. Kristian Fulton, 92.4
2. Mooney Ward, 92.1
3. Nate Hobbs, 90.1
Only corner in the NFL with a Top-3 grade in coverage and against the run.
With the devastating injury to Emmanuel Moseley, there’s going to be even more pressure on Mooney Ward to be more special than he has so far this season. As Ward said after the game, hopefully, teams can start to target him more so he can turn those passes defensed into interceptions.
But through five weeks, I don’t think there’s been a better free-agent signing in the NFL than Ward.