George Kittle, of course, is among the NFL’s most elite players. In just three NFL seasons the 49ers’ tight end has become arguably the best player in the league at his position.
So, when longtime national NFL reporter Pete Prisco recently produced his list of the NFL’s Top 100 players going into the 2020 season, it was no surprise Kittle is high, at No. 18. It also makes sense that defensive end Nick Bosa (24), cornerback Richard Sherman (57) and defensive lineman Arik Armstead (90) are included.
But the fifth 49er on the list is somewhat of a surprise: safety Jimmie Ward.
Since being selected by San Francisco in the first round of the 2014 draft, Ward’s only consistency has been his inconsistency. He’s missed 32 games because of injuries and has been bounced around to every position in the secondary.
Yet in 2019, Ward stayed (mostly) healthy and became an impact player at free safety, playing 13 regular-season games and all three postseason games. This past season he was in on a career-high 65 tackles, had a sack and eight passes defensed.
This offseason, when general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were faced with salary-cap restrictions, they decided to re-sign Ward, giving him a three-year, $28.5 million deal.
Lynch said Ward’s passion, talent and improving skill set are a key for the team’s improving defense, and it was important to re-sign him.
“This extension allows Jimmie to continue to grow in our defense and we look forward to seeing where he can take his game,” said Lynch.
Prisco saw what Ward did last season and put him at No. 93 in his rankings.
Wrote Prisco: “This former corner has developed into a nice ball-hawking safety. His range is a big part of the 49ers defense and they were wise to keep him, rather than let him hit the market this year.”