The San Francisco 49ers lost the signal caller in their secondary in Donte Whitner this offseason. They brought in veteran Antoine Bethea in free agency, but they needed a long-term answer. When possibly the best safety in the 2014 draft class, Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois, fell to the 49ers at the 30th pick, they had to take him.
Jimmie Ward is a special talent because he’s so versatile. Look for Ward to take over immediately as the 49ers’ nickel cornerback while learning the safety position under Bethea. I fully expect Ward to take over the safety position by the start of the 2015 season or sometime during. However, Ward is much more suited for the free safety position while current free safety, Eric Reid, is ideal for the strong safety. Once Ward wins the starting spot, I expect Ward and Reid to switch.
Ward is extremely smart and puts in a lot of time in the film room. So once training camp gets underway and Ward is back from his foot surgery, he will already have a firm grasp on the defensive scheme. Also look for him to start making plays in camp immediately and turning a lot of heads. His ball skills are excellent as are his instincts. His knack for making big plays on the ball are comparable to Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals.
Ward will miss OTAs due to his foot injury but should be ready to go for training camp. He brings a much needed spark to the 49ers’ secondary and adds a great deal of versatility back there, something general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh value a great deal. Whether it’s covering wide receivers in the slot or playing centerfield in a cover-3 defense, Ward is ready to make plays. Even in more of a situational role in his rookie season, Ward will have a significant impact right away.