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Why Jimmie Ward is the most underrated 49ers player

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jul 16, 2022 at 12:00 PM--

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For the entire season, I've been in heavy defense of Emmanuel Moseley, citing him as the most underrated San Francisco 49er on multiple occasions.

However, given the disrespect towards a certain player after a great season, there's a new king to the "most underrated" moniker: Jimmie Ward.

Now, let me be clear. This is no shade towards Emmanuel Moseley, who continues to be a high-end cornerback No. 2, and performed admirably after Jason Verrett tore his ACL in Week 1 of last season against the likes of several high-end caliber.

Instead, this is appreciation towards the player that has been the anchor of the 49ers secondary for seasons, yet hasn't received the necessary praise or accolades during his tenure.

Prior to the 2021 NFL season, Ward showcased his bold demeanor, conducting an interview with 49ers beat writer Grant Cohn, and taking to Instagram that he wouldn't let any of the top-ten tight ends reach over 50 yards on him this season.

Not only did Ward not allow 50 yards to a single tight end this season, but the veteran safety didn't allow that total to any player in 2021.

In fact, Ward gave up over 50 yards overall on just one occasion last season, truly showing his elite coverage ability at the safety position, while also coming true on his outspoken claims.

Recently, Jimmie Ward was left off an ESPN top-ten safeties list, where NFL executives were polled on their opinions about the players at the top of the position.

However, Ward wasn't overshadowed by all, as a NFC defensive coach considered Ward the "best man-coverage safety in the NFL."

There are a ton of talented safeties in the NFL. Ward is certainly amongst that group, and his play proves it, even if he doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

Many have claimed Ward to be a top coverage safety in the NFL, as PFF ranked him amongst their top-five safeties out of the slot earlier this offseason.

However, what many don't realize about Ward is his versatility and his ability to tackle, despite his aggressiveness.

In 2021, Ward played significant snaps at three different positions, logging 544 snaps at free safety, 203 snaps at slot corner, and 229 snaps in the box.

Ward played a similar role in 2020, logging 404 snaps at free safety, 208 snaps at slot corner, and 204 in the box, showcasing his unique versatility that has helped defensive coordinators DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh with their defensive schemes.

Ward had a career-high 77 tackles in 2021, and yet, he didn't miss a single tackle.

In fact, Ward had the highest number of tackles without a missed tackle out of ANY NFL player in 2021.

Ward's tackling ability in 2021 wasn't an outlier either, as the safety has had less than a 5% missed tackle rate for the past four season.

In reality, Ward has had the elite talent for years, but suffered from durability issues to begin his career.

An AFC executive stated the durability issues as the reason why Ward wasn't placed as a top-ten safety, although they praised Ward's actual abilities.

"I've always loved his game when he's out there, it's just hard to trust him to be out there year-to-year," an AFC exec said.

However, in his age-30 season in 2021, Ward was the healthiest he's been in his career, playing and starting in 16 games over the regular season.

Surprisingly, as Ward has gotten older, he's become more durable, starting in 13, 14, and 16 games over the last three years, which were all career-highs during their respective years.

Ward isn't backing away from the smoke in 2022 either.

Earlier this month on Instagram, Ward argued that he still doesn't receive credit for his play, which is why he's going to continue coming with fire prior to hitting free agency in 2022.

"Still no credit," Ward responded to an post. "That's why I'm going to f—- your favorite players up [and] hit free agency and see what happen after the season over."

Ward has been the longest-tenured 49er, being drafting back in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and if he continues the level of play that has warranted his calling as a top safety in the league, the 49ers should extend their star defensive back.

Overall, Ward is a strong tackler, reliable run-defender, versatile as a safety, and an elite coverage safety.

And while he may not get the respect he surely deserves, the 49ers will certainly be appreciative of his mentality, play, and leadership as they chase their sixth Lombardi Trophy in 2022.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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