Northern Illinois Huskies product Jimmie Ward is the third-best safety prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he’s a more consistent alternative to No.2-ranked Louisville product Calvin Pryor, who has more impressive tools than any safety in this league’s class. While I still believe that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the class of the position in this year’s draft class, Ward and Pryor are threats to be selected in the first round, and Pryor’s tools and fit as a strong safety make him especially appealing. If he’s available with the 29th pick and they haven’t made any upgrades in free agency, then I could see the New England Patriots as an ideal fit.
Several things stand out to me when watching Ward, and the first is the fact that he’s clearly the best free safety in this year’s class. There aren’t many safeties who can fit into the coveted center-fielder role, but Ward has the speed and coverage ability to do it. He’s an instinctive, technically sound safety who has enough physicality to fit in an LS-RS system as well. He has the ability to cover slot receivers, so that further adds to his versatility.
Both draft insider Tony Pauline and the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs report that Ward stated he will have surgery next week to repair a stress fracture, and his expected timeline is 6-8 weeks. It sounds like it will take closer to eight weeks for Ward to recover, but that’s still before the draft; his draft stock shouldn’t change at all due to an injury.
Ward reportedly ran a forty below 4.5, and Pauline reports that his “range” was between 4.46-4.51, and a scout told Pauline that the safety “established” himself as a second-round pick. That’s my grade for him as well.