For the second straight season, the 49ers took a safety in the first round, although Jimmie Ward might be best suited as a nickel cornerback early in his career. The Northern Illinois safety is 5-11, 193, which is undersized for an NFL player at his position and quite a bit smaller than Eric Reid, the team's top pick last season. The 49ers' biggest free-agent pickup, Antoine Bethea, also is a safety, and he and Reid are expected to start this season.
Ward was dealing with a foot injury during the combine in February, but he performed well at his pro day in March, which the 49ers attended. Ward reportedly ran his 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, which would have been the second fastest time for a safety at the combine. In 2013, he had a team-high 95 tackles, seven interceptions and 17 pass deflections. Ward was a third-team All-American, a first-team All-MAC selection and a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2013. Ward was one of nine defensive backs taken in the first round Thursday.
In the days before the draft, a buzz built that the 49ers would trade up in the first round and that LSU receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. was their likely target. Two receivers, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, were taken in the first seven picks, then the Giants snapped up Beckham with the 12th pick.
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