Has there been a more improved player on the San Francisco 49ers than safety Jimmie Ward? His talent has finally started to surface now that his health is no longer in question. It is no secret that Ward has been an injury prone player since entering the league. This year alone Ward has suffered a broken collarbone, followed by a broken finger. He's just never had the longevity to ever come into his own.
Knowing that he is an injury prone player, that never detracted Robert Saleh from Ward. Saleh remained adamant that Ward is among the best-11 defenders on the 49ers. That is why when Ward was officially given the green light after recovering from injury Saleh reinserted him back into the starting lineup over Tarvarius Moore. It was quite the gamble to give Ward his spot back rather than develop Moore for the future.
However, since gaining his spot back Ward is showing why Saleh believed in him.
He definitely has looked like the best-11 defenders that Saleh preached about early in the season. Ward has just been an absolute baller and is one of the reasons why the 49ers' defense is so elite. Against the Packers on Sunday night, Ward earned an elite coverage grade and notched two pass breakups via Pro Football Focus. He now has seven on the year, which is tied for the league lead among safeties.
“I take it one game at a time." Ward on his resurgent season following Sunday night. "I still haven’t felt like I have done anything too much. I just make tackles, which is something I have done since I was nine years old, and make a few pass break-ups. I am waiting to get some picks and make some touchdowns, that is when I get excited.”
The way Ward is carrying himself is an indicator that he has always had the standout talent. He just hasn't had the opportunities to show it off since his injuries have been constant. It never was a question on if Ward would get injured, but when. Considering all the players on the 49ers who have gotten injured, Ward should feel very fortunate that he hasn't succumbed to it. Losing Ward would be a big loss to the 49ers' defense because he plays a significant role.
Even Richard Sherman is loving what he sees from his teammate. Listen to what Sherman had to say about Ward's impact and season following the win against the Packers.
Sherman is absolutely right when he mentions that Ward is "going to get paid" in the offseason. He just does it all for the 49ers in every facet of the game. Ward has excellent cover skills, can come up for run-support and is a tone-setter on the defense. That is one of the reasons why this defense is so elite. They have so many tone-setting players that it just revs everyone up. Seeing that as the opposition is discouraging, which showed for the Packers' offense.
"He goes out there and gives it his all." Kyle Shanahan on Ward's great season. "I think it’s been hard for me to watch for him because people have gotten down on him just because he’s gotten hurt most of his years here. But, that doesn’t take away from how good of a football player he is. Jimmie is a guy who plays hurt, plays through anything. He’s just had some very bad breaks in his career so far and this year he hasn’t."
Ward's season has not gone unnoticed from anyone in the 49ers' locker room. What he has done this year has just been incredible. You just have to feel so happy for him that he is finally able to show what he has after suffering injury after injury. Now that he is healthy, Ward is playing at a Pro Bowl level. As proud as he should feel about his season, I'd bet that no one is prouder than Saleh who has been a believer of Ward from the beginning.