The Atlanta Falcons need an upgrade over safety Thomas DeCoud in the 2014 NFL draft. Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois is someone they could be considering as an improvement over what DeCoud provided as the starting free safety in 2013.
ESPN's Adam Caplan reported that the Falcons were one of 12 teams that Ward visited during April.
Northern Illinois University
Height: 5'11" Weight: 189 pounds
Arm Length: 31" Hand Measurement: 9-3/8"
40 yard dash: 4.47 sec. 10 yard split: 1.56 sec.
20 yard shuttle: 4.24 sec. 3-cone Drill: 6.89 sec. Bench Reps: 9 reps
Vertical Jump: 38.0" Broad Jump: 10'5"
2013: 14 Games Played, 95 Tackles, 2.0 Tackles for Loss, 1.0 Sacks, 7 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 10 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2012: 13 Games Played, 104 Tackles, 1.0 Tackles for Loss, 1 QB Hurry, 3 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 11 Pass Deflections
2011: 14 Games Played, 100 Tackles, 2.5 Tackles for Loss, 1.0 Sack, 1 Interception, 1 Fumble Forced, 4 Pass Deflections, 1 Blocked Kick, 1 Punt Return, 9 Yards
2010: 13 Games Played, 18 Tackles, 1 Fumble Forced, 3 Blocked Kicks, 2 Punt Returns, 37 Yards, 1 Touchdown
Ward has great speed and very fluid hips. He can cover deep effectively and has solid short area quickness. He gets in position to make plays easily and was very productive as a college player in a scheme that highlighted his abilities.
He played a lot of slot corner in addition to his safety duties and looked competent there. He’s a wrap-up tackler who doesn’t deliver much pop but can take guys down easily. He also is solid in man and press-man to hold his own in slot coverage.
The biggest questions around Ward’s game come from a lack of legitimate competition in the MAC. He also doesn’t have ideal size for the NFL and could be like former Colts safety Bob Sanders in terms of concerns about his durability.
When it comes to run support, he sometimes takes poor angles and overpursues too much. He also bites too hard on play action and gets thrown off in coverage by combo routes. He also rarely played single high and is more of a box safety in a league looking for deep safeties.
How does he fit the Comrade Filter?
Ward is a great fit for the Falcons' Comrade Filter because he's never been arrested or suspended. He's also a great team player and has a high football IQ. The Falcons would also like how quick he is for his frame, as he's one of the more athletic safeties in the draft.
Ward does a lot of good things on the field, but he’ll remind some of DeCoud, who left Atlanta to join the Carolina Panthers. The prospect's tackling issues and poor angles will be aggravating, but he’ll make some great plays on the ball at times.
He might see a Pro Bowl or two, but for the most part, he’ll be an average NFL safety. Ward will go much higher than he should, as he’s probably going to be a late-first or early-second-round pick.
How he would fit into the Falcons' plans
If the Falcons did get Ward, they would likely have to trade up into the first to get him. It wouldn’t be a great pick since they are trying to upgrade from DeCoud rather than making a lateral move.
Still, Ward is a start toward addressing the lack of talent Atlanta currently has at the free safety. Whether he’s a quality starter right away will be tough to determine. But at least he’d be a starter at a position of need, so the Falcons should seriously consider pursuing him if he's available.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All combine and pro day info is courtesy NFL Draft Scout. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.