4. Jimmie Ward, S, 49ers
This one is cheating a bit. Jimmie Ward really reached another level of play last season, but it’ll take another great campaign to get the attention he deserves.
Ward has been one of the only 49ers to play under Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly, and Kyle Shanahan. That says something about the 2014 first-round pick’s talent and versatility.
Hampered by injuries throughout his career, it’s always difficult to put too much faith in Ward. Over the last six seasons, Ward has played in all 16 games just once and only reached double-digit games played in a year three times.
However, if his injury woes are behind him, he’s positioned to jump from a solid starter to a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Ward had a career year last season, setting career marks in games started (13) and tackles (65). As the Niners defense carried the team through the regular season and to the brink of a Super Bowl title, Ward was a cornerstone at the safety position.
Pro Football Focus has always been higher on Ward than most, but last year was in another league altogether. Ward received an elite 84.2 PFF grade last season, the sixth-highest grade among qualified safeties last season.
There tends to be a reason any elite athlete plays on the defensive side of the ball and Ward’s no different. His hands are objectively bad.
Since we really only notice defensive backs when they’re generating turnovers, Ward’s lack of interceptions (he hasn’t intercepted a pass in the regular season since 2016) has kept him from getting the attention he deserved.
If Ward can stay healthy and maintain his elite level of play and grab a couple picks in the process, he’s well-positioned to earn a Pro Bowl selection.