Amidst all the trade rumors—the eleven draft picks, the Mike Evans, Odell Beckhams, the Sammy Watkins—the first round came and went for the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers did not trade up to land a big name receiver (although they did just get one). They did not trade up to land a big name defensive back. Instead they drafted 5-foot-11 safety Jimmie Ward.
There’s no doubting Ward’s ability. He is a very good player and will undoubtedly compete for a starting spot immediately. However, like many other 49er fans, the pick was sort of a head-scratcher. The 49ers desperately need help at cornerback and wide receiver. Ward fills neither of these needs.
As it stands, the 49ers are in good shape with their safety position. They drafted Eric Reid in 2013 and signed Antoine Bethea in the offseason. Ward is already a better player having those two as mentors. The only puzzling thing is why the 49ers drafted Ward at all. I get it—Ward was the best athlete available and the 49ers took him because of that. Was it a smart move? Hands down. Is Ward the player that will instantly make the 49ers Super Bowl contenders? No.
To put it in more simple terms, the 49ers are in an arms race with Seattle. Few will doubt that San Francisco and Seattle are the two best teams in the league. The 49ers need to approach this draft as if it was dedicated to beating Seattle. This means either an over-the-top receiver that can burn Richard Sherman and company, or a big physical corner that can challenge Percy Harvin. The 49ers did not achieve either of these goals in the first round. Instead they now have three safeties to fill two positions.
I don’t hate the Jimmie Ward Pick, but I also don’t love it. You can’t fault the 49ers organization for taking the best athlete available at their position. I think the most disappointing thing is that the 49ers were rumored to do big things. Maybe all the smoke and mirrors was intentional so that the 49ers could draft Ward late in the first round. Maybe he was the plan all along. As a fan however, I can’t help but feel bamboozled over the 49er’s first round pick.
There’s no real way to know for sure whether Jimmie Ward will translate into on-field success. That’s why Trent Baalke gets paid the big bucks to make these decisions. Who knows? Maybe Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans will turn out to be the biggest draft busts in NFL history? Nothing is guaranteed in the first round. The 49ers showed that they are more inclined to take the safe route than the big gamble.
Maybe the 49ers have bigger plans in mind for the coming rounds (as the Johnson trade proves). The only thing I know for sure is that with ten picks remaining, the 49ers at some point will have to make a trade. Whether that means a big jump in the next rounds or more future draft picks is any ones guess. The 49ers have some serious holes to fill at wide receiver and cornerback. I’m confident in Baalke and company that they will answer these needs in the coming rounds.
After all the huff and puff leading up to the draft, however, I cannot help to feel like the first round was nothing but wasted opportunities.