The 49ers did everything they weren’t expected to come their 3oth overall selection Thursday evening.
It wasn’t Odell Beckham Jr., nor Kelvin Benjamin. The 49ers didn’t even trade up, like everyone expected.
No, the HarBaalke crew took safety Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois. And they did it without trading up, keeping their 10 other picks — and running back LaMichael James — in their pocket.
The 49ers appear primed to use Ward as their primary nickel corner at first, with hopes they can use him to at some point displace newly signed safety Antoine Bethea.
And, perhaps Ward can fill in at either safety position, should a starter get injured.
Ward was initially projected to be drafted on day two, though NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock called Ward “one of his favorite players in the draft.”
His skills are undisputed, but what cause the lower projection was his size. At five-foot-eleven, Ward isn’t the typical safety, he’s closer to the build of a cornerback.
But what Ward lacks in size, he’s shown to make up for in effort. An excellent run stopper, Ward could be useful to the 49ers when they face the Seattle Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch, who has been a terror.
Mayock also described him “a natural center fielder,” which they’ll need when facing Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning, later this year.
During his senior season, Ward recorded seven picks, one returned for a touchdown, and 62 tackles.
The 49ers hold five picks for day two, the 56th and 61st (second round), as well as the 77th, 94th and 100th (third round).