Well, so much for the highly anticipated NFL draft; at least if you were a San Francisco 49ers fan. The 49ers for the second time in three years shocked their fans with a player who they weren’t expected to take in the first round. The last one, A.J. Jenkins, is no longer on the roster. However, Jimmie Ward could very well yield a much different result.
The Niners’ two biggest needs heading into the draft were at cornerback and wide receiver. They had options all throughout the first round. They could trade up for either a receiver or cornerback or stand pat and take a player that fell to them. Most of the experts expected the Niners to trade up, instead they selected Ward, a safety from Northern Illinois, at 30th overall.
This pick was obviously a surprise to Niner fans, who took to twitter and other social media sites to voice their frustration about the pick. However, Ward can play and he will instantly provide them with depth at both safety spots, and he could also replace Carlos Rogers at nickel corner as he has outstanding cover and ball skills. Ward is built much more like a corner than a safety at 5-11, 193 pounds. He fits the cornerback position much more than the safety position. He also runs a solid 40 in the 4.5 range and has the versatility both as an in the box player and as a cover player.
This pick is surprising considering the amount of talented players the Niners passed on. They passed on corners Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby in order to take Ward. The previous four were off the board before they picked and Roby went a couple picks after to the Denver Broncos. The Niners also didn’t trade up for quite a few quality receivers, which their fanbase wanted. However, Ward appears to be the guy the Niners were targeting all along and nobody else knew that.
The one drawback on Ward would be his durability as a safety. He suffered a foot injury during the season that he’s still recovering from and he has a lean frame that might not hold up throughout a full 16 game season. However, most of those concerns won’t be as bad if he’s playing corner. Most of the experts on both ESPN as well as NFL Network praised the pick as a good one and said that Ward will be a really good player. Ward can play and perhaps the Niners are taking a page out of the Seattle Seahawks book in that, you can never have enough defensive backs.
Ward’s role and impact is yet to be determined, but it’s safe to assume that the Niners are confident about Ward’s ability. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh has already praised Ward’s instincts as a football player. So it’s easy to see that the organization as a whole liked Ward and what he brought to the table. He figures to be another valuable rookie for the Niners either as a nickel corner, a backup safety or even a special teams ace. I’m leaning more toward the starting nickel back.
Those questions will be answered in a few months. Also the questions of whether or not the Niners will pick a receiver in round 2 will be answered soon. What will they do next? Tune in later today and find out.