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Small-School Spotlight: S Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois)

Posted Apr 18, 2014

NFL.com Draft Projection: Rounds 6-7

Coming from a small school and being undersized may have Jimmie Ward flying a bit under the radar as the draft approaches. But those who’ve flipped on the film or have seen Ward play in person understand the spotlight is never too bright for this charismatic cat.

Vikings

During his career at Northern Illinois, Ward helped the program to unprecedented success. A four-year contributor and three-year starter, Ward and the Huskies went 46-10 overall and 31-1 in conference play from 2010-13, including four trips to the MAC Championship Game with two victories. Overall, Ward was a three-time First-Team All-MAC selection and in 2013 was a Third-Team All-American. He tallied 300 tackles and 11 interceptions in three seasons as a starter, and as a freshman in 2010 he set a school record with three blocked punts.

The 2013 Huskies defense led the MAC in interceptions, was second in rushing defense, tied for second in turnovers forced and third in opponents 3rd down conversions.

NFL.com’s scouting profile on Ward describes him as an aggressive run supporter who has good short-area burst, breaks and closes on throws well and is all over the field. He is also characterized as confident and energetic, and the profile cites special teams experience, including those four blocked punts, as a plus.

The drawbacks for Ward begin with size. Listed at 5-11, 193 pounds, Ward’s profile on NFL.com says he’s built more like a corner than a safety and needs to add bulk because he has trouble discarding blockers. It also states he lacks elite top-end speed and can be stiff in his hips, which results in some man-coverage limitations.

Ward was a standout at this year’s Senior Bowl. Following Senior Bowl week, here is how I summarized Ward’s performance:

“A versatile defender who played both cornerback and safety at Northern Illinois, Ward looked good all week at safety for the North team. His best traits are his physical nature in coverage and in support of the run, plus either a quick first step or quick diagnosis. I would have to study game tape of his to make a determination on which one it is, but either way Ward is quick to get to the ball because of one (or both) of these traits.”

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