Jimmie Ward has been a big part of one of the better defenses in the MAC in Northern Illinois. Ward has been a play maker that has made a number of big plays on the football and been able to force turnovers for the Huskies this year. They have used him in a number of different as a free safety but also had him lined up in the slot depending on how the opponent is lined up and their respective defensive call.
Ward has pretty good athleticism and burst to close on the football and his ability to make plays on the football is impressive. He has a lot of ability to play in coverage but he needs to improve his effort on run defense and his technique as a tackler. In addition to contributing as a safety, Ward should be able to help on special teams as well. Ward projects as a third day pick with the potential to be a starter in the NFL.
Vitals & Build
Ward is listed at 5’11” 192lbs with pretty good burst and overall speed. He has effectiveness quickness and the ability to close with decent fluidity in his hips. Ward’s size is not great but he appears to have the frame to continue getting stronger without losing his athleticism.
Ward’s tackling form is extremely inconsistent and tends to be poor more often than it is good. Too often, he resorts to diving at the opponents’ legs rather than trying to chest them up and make a form tackle. Some of this is probably due to his lack of size but the results are inconsistent.
He can tackle with better form but needs to do it far more often. Usually, he opts to use it when he has the sideline to help him but seems uncomfortable in the middle of the field. He also needs to clean up how he tries to make hits on receivers coming across the field as his technique could get him in trouble in the NFL. Ward needs to just continue working and improving on his technique to get more consistent results.
Ward’s ability to support the run is there, but the effort is remarkably inconsistent and frustrating. When he wants to get downhill and fill, he can and has done it.
Too often, he seems to want to assume his teammates will do the job and gear down waiting for the next play. This happens far too often and will turn some coaches off as a result. Part of the problem is that there are too many examples where Ward assumes the play is over when it is not and could break open for a big gain.
This does not mean Ward needs to go and jump on the pile just to show useless effort, but should at least be in position to make a play if he cannot get there, which is not always the case. Ward could also go and just try to rip out the football. There have been times where Ward has done a good job of getting in position in case something were to happen and is in position to not only make a tackle but in one case, the ball rolled out and he was able to pick it up and take it to the end zone. The play was ultimately ruled down but had it not been, he makes a heads up play and scores a touchdown.
Ward has shown he can do the job as he is far more active when lined up in the slot and is in the thick of the action as opposed to being lined up deep. He just needs to carry that effort over to when he plays on the back end.
Ward also needs to do a better job with his hands when it comes to taking on and shedding blocks as he tends to get locked up too much. When he can get a lean on his opponent, he can work off of the block but just needs to do better with his technique in that aspect, so he can work to the ball carrier more effectively.
Ward shows a lot of ability in coverage, both in zone and in man. He might actually demonstrate more pure skill in man coverage and his ability to play press in the slot as well as mirror routes either deep or near the line of scrimmage. Ward shows some pretty good closing speed and is comfortable being aggressive going for the football.
In zone, Ward is able to play deep in the middle, roll coverage and has a good sense of where plays are going. He shows pretty good burst and is able to break on the football to make plays on the football. The Huskies use a number of different sets and coverages putting Ward in a lot of different situations and he seems to adjust well and is able to make plays.
Ward is impressive in his ability to find and get to the football. He can be a little inconsistent when he gets there and has missed opportunities but the sheer number of passes he gets to give him the chance to make a big play. Even though he has dropped a few passes he should not have, he has also made some incredible plays and tipped passes to himself on more than one occasion.
Ward is able to make plays with back turned to the line of scrimmage as well as coming up while reading the eyes of the quarterback.
Blitzing off the Edge
Ward has experience blitzing from the slot as well as from the back end. He has the explosiveness to make plays and can get into the backfield to make plays, but his tackling form can cause him problems when he gets there. Still, his speed and quickness give the defense options on how to use him.
Ward has a good amount of experience on special teams both in coverage units but has shown a pretty good amount of ability when it comes to blocking kicks. He has a good first step, good burst and can bend around the edge. Ward had most of his success in getting to kicks in his first two years but came pretty close this past season as well. He should be able to help on special teams immediately.
Ward’s best fit is as a free safety as he seems to be able to contribute in coverage almost immediately. He needs to do a better, more consistent job in defending the run and tackling in general so he can consistently get on the field. Ward has the potential to start because of his knack for making plays on the football, but it would not be a surprise to see him be depth initially while contributing on special teams while continuing to develop and refine his game. It is possible he could also see some time in a big nickel type situation if a team wants to use him as an extra safety that can contribute in the slot.
Ward’s game could end up being similar to that of Quentin Demps of the Kansas City Chiefs. Demps put in his time to develop and get better, evolving to the point where he has become an effective player in the Chiefs system and putting up some solid numbers this year. Ward definitely has ability but needs to iron out a few things in his game so he can be a starter and be a good player in the NFL.
Jimmie Ward’s ability to make plays on the football and his ability in coverage is what will make him jump off of the tape for teams. He does need to become a more consistent run defender both in effort and results. The fact that he should be able to help on special teams should only work in his favor. Ward projects as a day three pick that has the potential to start if he can improve in a few key areas.
Ward has received and accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, which is interesting for all of the reasons it is for everyone else, but his situation is a little unique in that he is from Mobile. He is going home for the week and the game.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com