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James "Jimmie" Ward (born July 18, 1991) is an American football free safety for the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the 49ers as a safety in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He played college football at Northern Illinois.Contents
Born in Mobile, Alabama, Ward attended Davidson High School in Mobile. He led the Warriors in tackles as a senior with 101 tackles, 73 solo, as Davidson went 10-3 and advanced to the state quarterfinals, while earning team Defensive MVP honors. Ward also recorded eight pass break-ups, an interception, forced two fumbles and recovered three. He added three blocked kicks and three quarterback sacks. As a junior, Ward made 93 tackles, broke up seven passes and intercepted five. He also caused a pair of fumbles and blocked two kicks.
Ward was considered a two-star recruit by Rivals.com.College career
Ward attended Northern Illinois University from 2010 to 2013. In 2010, Ward played in all 14 games as a true freshman and blocked a school-record three punts on the year. He also recorded 21 tackles,a forced fumble and a pass break up, and was named the Huskies Special Teams Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. In 2011, he appeared in all 14 games, and started 12. He was named a third-team All-MAC selection after recording a career-high 100 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. In 2012, he led the Huskies with 104 tackles, including a career game high 14 against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. He also recorded three interceptions while starting 13 games, earning himself first-team All-MAC honors. In 2013, he led the Huskies in tackles (95), interceptions (7) and pass deflections (12), while earning national recognition as a third-team All-American by the Associated Press. He also earned first-team All-MAC honors for the second consecutive season.Professional career
Coming out of Northern Illinois, Ward was projected to be a first or second round pick by the majority of NFL draft experts and scouts. He received an invitation to the NFL combine as a top defensive back prospect, but was unable to participate in any physical running or jumping drills after discovering a stress fracture in his foot on the eve of the combine. On March 7, 2014, he opted to participate at Northern Illinois' pro day even though he was still injured and performed all of the combine drills except for the bench. Scouts and team representatives from 30 NFL teams attended Northern Illinois' pro day as Ward, Jordan Lynch, and five other teammates worked out. Ward attended five private workouts with teams, that included the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings. He was ranked the top strong safety prospect in the draft by NFLDraftScout.com and was ranked the third best safety prospect by NFL analyst Mike Mayock and Sports Illustrated.Pre-draft measurables Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yard dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert jump Broad BP 5 ft 11 in
The San Francisco 49ers selected Ward in the first round (30th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was the third safety selected behind Calvin Pryor (18th overall, Jets) and HaHa Clinton-Dix (21st overall, Packers).2014
On May 22, 2014, the San Francisco 49ers signed Ward to a four-year, $7.11 million contract with $5.30 million guarantee and a signing bonus of $3.49 million.
He competed with Antoine Bethea and Craig Dahl throughout training camp for the starting strong safety position. Head coach Jim Harbaugh named Antoine Bethea the starting strong safety to begin the season and named Ward the backup free safety to Eric Reid. He was also tasked with nickel cornerback duties.
Ward made his regular season debut in the San Francisco 49er's season-opener against the Dallas Cowboys and made one tackle during their 28-17 victory. The following week, he collected a season-high four solo tackles in the 49er's 20-28 loss to the Chicago Bears. During a Week 3 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, Ward recorded two solo tackles and a season-high two pass deflections in a 14-23 loss. He was unable to play during a Week 7 loss to the Denver Broncos due to a quad injury. On November 9, 2014, he recorded two combined tackles during a 27-24 against the New Orleans Saints. He suffered a foot injury during the game and was placed on injured/reserve for the remainder of his rookie season. Ward finished his 2014 with 20 combined tackles (19 solo) and two pass deflections in eight games.2015
He returned to the San Francisco 49ers and was again named the backup free safety to Eric Reid under new head coach Jim Tomsula.
He made his first career start during the San Francisco 49ers' season-opener against the Minnesota Vikings and made one tackle in a 20-3 victory. The next week, Ward earned eight combined tackles during a 27-30 loss to the New York Giants. On December 6, 2015, he made two combined tackles, deflected a pass, and his first career interception off of a pass attempt by Jay Cutler during a 26-20 win over the Chicago Bears. He also scored his first career touchdown during the game, after he returned his interception for 29-yards. During a Week 15 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, Ward made six combined tackles, deflected a pass, and made his first career sack on Andy Dalton, as the 49ers lost 14-24. On January 3, 2016, Ward collected a season-high ten combined tackles ad defended a pass in. 19-16 overtime win over the St. Louis Rams. He finished the 2015 season with career-high 57 combined tackles (48 solo), six pass deflections, a sack, an interception, and one touchdown in eight starts and 16 games.2016
Throughout his first two season, Ward was a backup free safety and was tasked with covering the slot. Head coach Chip Kelly was hired to replace Jim Tomsula after the San Francisco 49er's 5-11 season. In training camp, Ward was converted to a full time cornerback and competed Kenneth Acker, Dontae Johnson, and Chris Davis for the job as the starting cornerback. He was named the starting cornerback, opposite Tramaine Brock, to begin the 2016 regular season.
He started the San Francisco 49ers' season-opener against the Los Angeles Rams and collected three solo tackles and two pass deflections during their 28-0 victory. During a Week 3 contest against the Seattle Seahawks, he made a tackle and defended a pass during a 18-37 loss. Unfortunately, he suffers a quad injury during a special teams play against the Seahawks and was unable to play from Weeks 4-6. In Week 10, Ward made seven solo tackles and a season-high four pass deflections, as the 49ers lost to the Arizona Cardinals 20-23. On December 11, 2016, Ward had a career game as he recorded a season-high 11 combined tackles, deflected three passes, intercepted a pass attempt from New York Jets' quarterback Bryce Petty, and had his first sack of the season in the 49ers' 17-23 overtime loss.
On December 18, 2016, Ward recorded two solo tackles during a 13-41 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He left the game after suffering a fractured clavicle. On December 20, 2016, the San Francisco 49ers placed him on injured-reserve for the remainder of the season. He finished his third season with a total of 53 combined tackles. (43 solo), a career-high 12 pass deflections, a sack, and an interception in ten starts and 11 games. Head coach Chip Kelly fired after positing a 2-14 season in 2016.2017
On May 1, 2017, the San Francisco 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Ward's rookie contract. It pays him a salary of $8.52 million for the 2018 season. At the beginning of training camp, new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh installed a cover 3 base defense and opted to move Ward back to his original position of free safety. This was his third different position in four season and his fourth head coach and defensive coordinator in that same span. Head coach Kyle Shanahan named Ward the starting free safety to begin the regular season. Ward suffered a hamstring injury and was unable to play in the San Francisco 49ers' season-opener and was replaced by Jaquiski Tartt.
On September 17, 2017, he made his season debut and recorded five combined tackles and deflected a pass in a 9-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The following week, Ward made his first start as a free safety and collected a season-high seven solo tackles during a 39-41 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. On October 19, 2017, Ward made three combined tackles in a 10-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He left the game after suffering a fractured forearm. On November 1, 2017, Ward was placed on injured/reserve for the remainder of the season. Ward finished the 2017 season with a total of 32 combined tackles (27 solo) and a pass deflection in six starts and seven games. Pro Football Focus gave him a overall grade of 46.9, ranking him 77th among all qualified safeties in 2017.References