The Washington Redskins have a lot of needs heading into the draft, and will likely use a best player available approach to this May’s draft. The Redskins could go a number of different directions with the 34th pick. You could make an argument for the Skins drafting the offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, or secondary position.
One direction the Redskins could go with the 34th pick is Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. The two knocks on Ward are his size and previous level of competition. Ward stands at 5’11 192 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his frame would suggest. Ward is fearless when it comes to tackling totaling 104 and 95 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Ward’s sure tackling ability would be welcomed in a Redskins secondary that bounced off and missed tackles far too often in 2013.
Ward isn’t just a skilled tackler; he is also a playmaking ball-hawk with a knack for making game changing plays. In his career at Northern Illinois Ward totaled 11 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles and a touchdown, one of the biggest differences between the 2012 and 2013 Redskins was the team’s ability to force turnovers. Ward’s presence could help the Redskins defense return to 2012 form that forced 21 interceptions and forced 12 fumbles.
So is Jimmie Ward worth the 34th overall pick? I believe so, Ward proved any doubters that he can handle the highest level of competition when the Northern Illinois standout shined at the senior bowl. Ward could also be an immediate contributor on special teams and join Phillip Thomas in pushing current starters Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark for playing time. Meriweather and Clark are at best only one year solutions (both are signed to one year deals), Ward and Thomas would provide a talented young safety duo of the future for the back end of a Redskin’s defense that has been shaky at best since the tragic death of Sean Taylor.
The other reason I’m high on Ward’s fit for the Redskins is his versatility. Ward possesses the speed to play free safety (ran a 4.47 40) and possesses the physical style of play necessary to play strong safety. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett prefers his safety’s to be capable of playing both safety spots, and Ward fits the bill perfectly.
Just like pass rushers, you can never have too many ball-hawk’s and play makers on your defense. Ward would be an exciting addition to a secondary that although improved hasn’t quite gotten the attention it truly required the past couple years. The cap penalties hampered the Redskins ability to sign a free agent upgrade at safety, and last year’s draft picks Thomas and Rambo who were fourth and sixth round picks were probably forced into starting roles too early as a result. Ward could be the long term solution to a position the Redskins have been trying to solve for years now.
You could make an argument that Ward could in fact be the best player available when the Redskins are on the clock at 34. Ward’s talent, combined with the Redskin’s need at his position make Ward an ideal pick for the Skins at 34.