Instead, the 49ers pulled a little bit of a shock—stood pat at No. 30 and drafted Northern Illinois strong safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick.
For many, thoughts of San Francisco tabbing either a wide receiver or cornerback in the first round was all but assured. Yet general manager Trent Baalke has already had good luck drafting safeties in the first round.
Last season, the 49ers moved up to grab LSU safety Eric Reid—a move that worked out well for the 49ers during Reid's rookie season.
Now, Baalke and Co. will hope to enjoy the same success with Ward on their roster moving forward.
There are some questions, however.
During the offseason, San Francisco added veteran safety Antoine Bethea, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts. Signed to a four-year, $21 million deal, it is safe to assume Bethea will be a part of the 49ers defense for a while.
Now, Ward is added to the equation.
In spite of his small frame—5'11" and 192 pounds—Ward plays larger than he looks. He also has excellent acceleration, speed and fluidity.
According to his draft profile page on CBS Sports, Ward plays with all the physicality necessary at the next level and has no problem matching up against bigger receivers in slot situations.
His seven interceptions during his senior year at Northern Illinois also lend credence to his ball-hawk abilities—an aspect the 49ers will unquestionably enjoy in future seasons.
Baalke on Ward: "He's a very physical football player" who can play both safety spots as well as nickel. #49ersDraft— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) May 9, 2014
Here is what CSN Bay Area had to say about him—Flew around the field at Northern Illinois. Good, aggressive, tough run supporting safety. Can play nickel corner. Over 95 tackles in each of the past three seasons.
If there is one mark to Ward, it is his ideal lack of size at the position. At 5'11", ward does not exactly have the height to match up against some of the taller receivers in the NFL.
Big fan of Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. Lacks ideal size but he's very instinctive and he has the fluidity to cover the slot.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 21, 2014
While he did not shy away from larger receivers at the collegiate level, the level of talent he will face at the NFL level will prove to be a challenge.
Also according to CBS Sports, Ward does not have the catch-up speed if he gets beat initially. In addition, Ward occasionally gets too grabby at times and will miss tackles against some of the bigger, larger receivers he faces.
Another mark against Ward is that he tends to leave his feet when tackling, per CSN Bay Area. While this may present some impressive tackles when he hits, it also leaves room for plenty of mistakes. These can prove to be costly.
Had the 49ers not gone out during the offseason and grabbed Bethea, this pick at No. 30 would have made a lot more sense.
With Bethea, Reid and Ward patrolling the secondary, San Francisco can say that its backfield has improved since last season. The fact that Ward can slide into a slot-cover position as needed also gives the 49ers more flexibility—both in terms of how they approach the remaining draft and in how they formulate the defense in 2014.
Jimmie Ward and Eric Reid are a damn good safety tandem.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) May 9, 2014
What also gives the 49ers an added bonus is that Ward employs the same physical mindset that now-departed Donte Whitner had at the same position.
The pick is a solid, if not off-the-chart, type of move. San Francisco's strength, long reliant on defense, just got a bit stronger.
Perhaps the major question here is whether or not the 49ers could have waited a bit longer to grab Ward or a similar player in his mold.
Still, one cannot overlook the combination of versatility, physicality and production that Ward has to offer. If he eventually winds up being a venerable part of the 49ers defense, the pick is worthwhile.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.