Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (HT: 5’11⅝”; WT: 193 lbs.)
First Round: 30th Pick
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+ Great speed and quickness lead to game-changing plays
+ Mirrors receivers in the slot like no other safety in the class
+ Good technician who doesn’t waste steps in coverage
+ Able to play press-man coverage
+ Efficient tackler in space due to good form
+ Solid ball skills that developed throughout his career
- Below-average size for a starting safety
- Smaller frame leaves him vulnerable to injuries
- Takes poor pursuit angles in run support
- Eye discipline is average at best; vulnerable to play-action pass plays
Jimmie Ward has above-average speed for a safety and is fluid as an athlete due to his compact body. His great speed and quickness allow him to make up for mental mistakes. Due to his short arms and small frame, he struggles to match up physically with tight ends on pass routes.
Ward wasn’t the defensive captain of Northern Illinois, but the defensive scheme was reliant upon his being a reliable playmaker. He had zero known incidents on or off the field and projects to be a locker room leader.
At Northern Illinois, Ward played in a variety of roles. He was often lined up over the slot receiver, where he excelled covering shifty, productive players. He also spent considerable time in Cover 2 zone, responsible for half of the field. He rarely lined up in the ever-desirable single-high safety position.
Jimmie showed improved ball skills in his senior season. He became more consistent in recognizing route patterns and anticipating passes than he was in seasons past.
Although he needs improvement locating the ball when running downfield with receivers, Ward shows the ability to read the eyes of the quarterback while staying disciplined to his assignment. He has great closing ability and good hands to finish the play. He struggles at the point of contest due to lack of size and functional strength.
Against the Run/Tackling
In all senses of the word, he is a safety against the run to keep it from doing major damage. Ward is a disciplined run defender, often filling his gap and protecting against chunk plays. The area of weakness is the angles he takes when pursuing ball-carriers. He has good speed but, NFL players are as fast in most cases, so he needs to play with better awareness of spacing.
Ward is a technically sound tackler, as he squares up with the ball-carrier and hits low, using leverage to help bring him down. Ward is undersized and leaves himself vulnerable to injuries by using his entire body to bring down big receivers.
Ward exhibits clean hip transfer and quick feet in coverage. Combining his physical traits and solid technique, he is a productive asset for any defense that needs a safety/cornerback hybrid. He tends to get too physical downfield against bigger receivers, drawing interference penalties. He will need to figure out how to deal with bigger players because he will often see bigger targets be thrown his way.
Ward doesn’t have better-than-average discipline in zone coverage yet, so he will need to study his opponents well to learn tendencies and avoid biting on play fakes. He has the speed and confidence to be effective as part of a two-deep safety tandem. As his spatial awareness improves, expect to see Ward trusted in any zone assignment.
Due to his size limitations, Ward compensates well using great technique. He is smooth in his movements, using energetic feet to change directions with ease. He is a solid press cornerback despite limited strength because he makes contact immediately and has an accurate punch.
The only area in which Ward could see notable improvement is taking care of his body when tackling. He has to find a balance of hitting effectively and preserving his frame over the course of an NFL season.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Jimmie Ward has the talent and versatility to play either safety position and be an effective, productive player in any scheme except single-high assignments. Expect Ward to be an immediate contributor and to improve if he can become more spatially aware in zone coverage.
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