The 49ers weren't in desperate need of a safety, but that's the route they went in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. With the 30th overall pick, San Francisco selected Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois.
If the 49ers were just looking to draft the best athlete left on their board, then they most likely accomplished that. Ward is a versatile safety, who could potentially play corner if the 49ers decided he'd be a better fit there. The former NIU star was the highest-rated strong safety on CBSSports.com's draft board.
CBSSports.com senior writer Pete Prisco likes Ward, but he was a little baffled by the pick.
Not only will Ward help the 49ers in the secondary, but he could help them on special teams too. The first-team All-American set Northern Illinois' career-record for blocked punts with four during his four years at the school.
Ward has a nose for the ball too -- During his college career, he made at least one tackle in every game he ever played in. Ward also led the Husky defense in tackles in 2013 with 95.
One of the main knocks on Ward, according to NFLDraftScout.com, is that he's not a great tackle, "He leaves his feet to tackle, creating some impressive collisions but occasionally failing to wrap up securely. Misses tackles against the bigger, stronger athletes," Rob Rang wrote before the draft.
Despite the knock, Ward still set some NIU draft history.
Northern Illinois isn't exactly known for producing first round picks. Ward is actually only the second player in school history to be taken in the first round. Since the first NIU player was drafted in 1948, linebacker Larry English is the only other first-rounder that the school has produced. San Diego made English the 16th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.