First-round draft pick
Because he’s going to learn both roles on defense, the team is listing the Northern Illinois product and 30th overall selection as a defensive back.
Ward will be immediately considered an option to be the team’s nickel cornerback in 2014.
“We believe he’ll compete as a nickel for us as well which is a very important position,” Jim Harbaugh said after the pick. “He’s a good hitter, but he also makes plays on the ball. He’s extremely fast and has great instincts.”
Both the 49ers head coach and general manager praised Ward’s versatility.
“He covers up for other people’s mistakes because he has a knack of seeing things quicker than everyone else on the defense and can react to them quicker, therefore he makes football plays,” Harbaugh said of Ward.
Baalke watched Ward play in person during the 2013 MAC Championship game against Bowling Green. The 49ers GM couldn’t find bad game film of Ward and commended the young defensive player for his impressive week at the Senior Bowl.
Baalke noted that Ward was able to cover slot receivers, be an effective tackler in the box and also make plays in the back end of NIU defense. Ward recorded seven interceptions last season and even ran stride-for-stride covering Kent State running back Dri Archer, owner of a 4.26, 40-yard dash, the fastest time at this year’s Scouting Combine.
Ward’s strength and speed made him a great fit, according to the 49ers decision makers.
Harbaugh went on to say that
With Ward set to arrive to the team's SAP Performance Facility on Friday, Baalke said the plan for Ward is to learn slot cornerback and safety during his first offseason with the team.
The 49ers GM doesn’t foresee Ward being strictly a cornerback in the NFL at the moment. Baalke also has no concerns with Ward recovering from a recent foot injury.
Baalke said he expects Ward to be ready for training camp and could soon participate in the team’s offseason program.