Free agency has all but ground to a halt. Though the New York Jets 2014 roster has started to take shape, the team has twelve draft picks and can add a much needed infusion of talent. One of the major areas of need for the Jets is in the secondary, both at safety and corner. With this in mind, lets take a look at a possible early target for the team, Jimmie Ward.
- 2013: Third-team All-American, first-team All-MAC, and a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist
- 2012: First-team All-MAC
- 2011: First-team All-MAC
- Coverage: Easily the most impressive aspect of Ward’s game is his versatility. Ward was tasked with with both playing the single high safety in a cover one and dropping into the slot in nickel packages. In man coverage, Ward is active and physical, able to jam larger receivers at the line. In zone, Ward can quickly diagnose the play and anticipate a route. Because Ward can play both man and zone, a creative defensive mind (read: Rex Ryan) can use the safety to disguise his alignments. Here on coverage on the inside man, he flips his hips well and shows good use of his hands.
- Tackling: Ward is not shy when it comes to contact and displays good discipline when choosing an angle. He spent some time in the box at Northern Illinois where he showed an ability to hit the gap and and squeeze the edge. However, he tends to lead with his helmet and go for the knees against larger runners (a tendency that will need to be addressed at the next level).
- Ball Skills: As I mentioned earlier, Ward has good anticipation. His understanding of the game and the route tree help him be in the right place at the right time. Both in man and zone coverage he is adept at breaking on and high pointing the ball. He will use his physicality to box out a receiver for a contested pass.
- Range: Some have questioned Ward’s speed but this issue was not apparent on tape and at his pro-day (4.45 40 yard dash). Ward flies around the field and always seems to be near the ball. He is tremendous when breaking from the deep center field and makes up ground quickly.
- Size: Ward is 5’11”, 193 pounds. This is not the ideal size for a deep cover safety. Though he adapts with an impressive vertical ability (38″ at his pro day) and physicality, receivers at the pro level may be able to over take him.
- Durability: Ward has a small frame and may not be able to bulk up at the next level. On appearance alone, he looks like an average sized cornerback. His early career showed no signs of injury but recent foot surgery kept him out of the combine. Though he only missed one career game due to injury, his size will frighten some teams.
- Strength: Though he is physical, Ward does not have ideal strength. Though he can play in the box when off the line, he is often manhandled by a run blocking wide out when playing press man. When attempting to tackle on the second level, he tends to get blocked out and struggles to disengage.
Fit With the Jets
The Jets secondary is depleted. Allen and Landry are the penciled in starters. The cornerback spot across from Milliner will likely be manned by a rookie. One effective way to mitigate the issues that will arise when starting a first and second year corner is provide safety help. Landry and Allen do not have the skill set to help the young cornerbacks. While a rookie may not be ideal, Ward could be the coverage safety the Jets need to mask the unavoidable growing pains at corner.
Conclusion: Rex Ryan has all but ignored the safety position in his time with the Jets. Since Kerry Rhodes left for the desert, the Jets have not had a true cover safety. Though we say it every year, now may be the time to buck the trend. Ward could go anywhere from the late first to the third and would provide tremendous value on day two. He would come right in and platoon at safety and should eventually start opposite Allen. The versatility of Allen and Ward would provide Rex Ryan with impressive flexibility in the secondary.