There has been a lot of debate over who is the best safety in this year's draft class. Calvin Pryor and HaHa Clinton-Dix seem to be neck and neck in that discussion, but don't sleep on Northern Illinois SS Jimmie Ward. Ward is someone who I feel hasn't generated enough buzz lately. CBS ranks him as the 62nd best prospect in the draft, and projects him to go in the 2nd round. They have him as the #1 strong safety over the likes of Deone Bucannon and Craig Loston. He's listed as a strong safety, but is versatile and can play safety, cornerback or slot CB, depending on the situation. In fact, there may not be a truer ball hawk in coverage than Jimmie Ward in this draft. He does not have the ideal size you're looking for in a safety (5'11, 193), but he makes up for it with his athleticism, instincts and play-making ability.
Among all of the defensive backs that attended this year's Senior Bowl game in Mobile, Alabama, Jimmie Ward had the best showing. It also happens that he grew up in Mobile, and received a warm welcome from fans. He had an outstanding week of practice leading up to the Senior Bowl, and received the Alabama Power Co. Practice Award for best defensive back. This was huge for him, as he was able to prove that he can compete at a high level against some of the top players in college football, and not just MAC schools. Ward sat out this year's combine due to a foot injury, but was able to participate in drills at his Pro Day last Friday.
NIU S Jimmie Ward had a very good pro day. 10.5 broad jump. Getting confirmation on 40 but heard 4.47. And 38" vertical.— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) March 7, 2014
Not bad for participating with a foot injury. Later that day, it was reported that Jimmie Ward will have surgery on his foot next week, and it should keep him out for 6-8 weeks. This should not affect his draft stock at all.
Jimmie Ward was a
right winger for the Montreal Canadians 1st-team All-MAC (2012, 2013) and 3rd-team AP All-American for the Huskies. As a freshman, he had a school-record 3 blocked punts and was named Special Teams Player of the Year. He led the MAC in interceptions (7) in 2013, and was 2nd in the NCAA.
- Ball Hawk Ability - Ward is listed as a strong safety, but will have no trouble playing free safety, cornerback, or even slot corner. He can do anything in the secondary that you ask of him. In coverage, he is a natural ball hawk. He is very fluid in his movement as well.
This is probably the most impressive play I've seen from a safety in this year's class. Ward is playing about 10 yards off his man. The WR breaks a couple yards in front of him towards the middle of the field. Ward decides to undercut the route and times it perfectly by getting his hand on the ball before it reaches the receivers hands. He tips it in the air and keeps his eyes focused on the ball, and somehow makes a spectacular grab with his left hand for the interception. Jimmie Ward is a baller.
- Instincts - Ward is a very instinctual and intelligent player. You rarely see him gamble on the ball. Instead, he seems to have an amazing feel for the game, and almost always knows where to put himself to make a play on the ball.
In this play, Ward lines up as the slot corner on 2nd and 7. It looks like he's about to get beat, but he knows that he has a safety over the top to help him out, so he's able to undercut the route and make a huge interception in the endzone.
- Versatility - It's become more and more apparent that NFL teams are favoring safeties who can do a little bit of everything. Like I mentioned a few times already, Ward can play pretty much anywhere you ask him to play in the secondary. He's been compared to Lions safety Glover Quin, who is also known to be an interchangeable safety that can also play slot corner.
- Run Support - Ward is pretty small for a safety, and he's not going to be able to shed many blocks in the run game, but his agility and instinctual awareness is something that you cannot teach. He has very good closing speed and is very physical for his size. He's great at avoiding blocks when running downhill, and takes good angles to the ball carrier. He shows good form when tackling and rarely misses a tackle or gives up a big play, even against guys who are much bigger than him.
Two plays into the game against Utah State, Ward shows why he was so good against the run in his 4 years at NIU. He's lined up about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, and immediately recognizes the run and closes the gap between him and the ball carrier. The outside receiver attempts to go for a cut block, but Ward is able to quickly juke out of the way and stuff the ball carrier for a minimal gain.
- Special Teams Beast - Ward made a huge impact on special teams for the Huskies. He accounted for 4 blocked punts in 4 years, 3 of them being during his freshman year. With his ability to tackle, he should prove to be a solid player on coverage units as well.
- Size - Ward doesn't possess the quintessential frame for a safety, and that may be a turn off to some NFL teams. Some teams may view him as a cornerback instead of a safety. If he was a few inches taller, he probably would be competing with Pryor and HHCD for first safety off the board.
- Weaker Competition - Going up against teams in the MAC isn't going to gain you a lot of props. Ward had a solid week of practice during the Senior Bowl, but some teams are going to question whether he's durable enough to go up against NFL teams week in and week out.
I expect Jimmie Ward to be chosen as a late-first to early/mid-second round pick. His stock has risen slowly after an impressive Senior Bowl and now an impressive Pro Day.
Why We Should Draft Him
Ward has drawn some comparisons to our very own Glover Quin. I think it'd be nice to have two Quins out on the field. They're both able to play multiple positions in the secondary, and both have good coverage skills, while being adequate against the run. The Lions have had their fair share of problems against the pass, and adding a ball-hawk like Ward would help shore up some problems in the secondary. Lions DC Teryl Austin is looking to be more agressive, and is looking for guys who can create turnovers. Ward will fit that mold for the Lions, and Austin will have an unlimited amount of ways to use Ward and Quin in the backfield to create some confusion for opposing offenses. If Ward is available by the time the Lions are on the clock in the 2nd round, they should think long and hard about drafting him.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
Ward doesn't exactly fit the profile of "bigger and stronger" that Austin and Mayhew are looking for in a defensive back. He's scheduled to have surgery on his foot next week, and while he'll only be out 6-8 weeks, there still may be some concerns there. Quin is already pretty small for a safety. The Lions shouldn't have two undersized safeties in their starting lineup.
Discuss below, and rec it if you liked it. I'm thinking of alternating between offense and defense, so next writeup will probably be on Ebron or another receiver. Thanks for all of the positive feedback.