Insider Reveals How the 49ers Can Address Needy Defensive Area in 2023


Getty Jimmie Ward and Fred Warner tag team for the tackle on November 13, 2022.

The San Francisco 49ers are trying to make winning use out of whatever is left out from an integral member of their defense over the years.

Because come March 2023, safety and captain Jimmie Ward is in a position where he can wear a uniform that doesn’t have “49ers” emblazoned in the front — as he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Ward’s future became a mailbag session question for Matt Barrows of The Athletic on Tuesday, November 15. Barrows not only addressed Ward’s future, but the future of fellow 49ers veteran safety Tashaun Gipson.

Barrows on How 49ers Will Address This Soon Needy Defensive Area

Barrows got asked: “How do you envision the future at safety playing out? Do the 49ers bring back Jimmie Ward and/or Tashaun Gipson? Or do they start looking toward the draft/future opposite [Talanoa] Hufanga?”

Some believe free agency would be where to pivot. But Barrows believes the 49ers could wait until April 2023 should Ward leave alongside Gipson.

“I think the 49ers absolutely could use a draft pick or two on a safety,” Barrows answered. “They make excellent special teamers, after all. They’re expecting nine picks (all in Round 3 or lower), and the middle rounds are good for safeties.”

As it is, the 49ers are proving they struck gold by snatching Hufanga in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, who has since blossomed into a potential Pro Bowler by season’s end. They’ve already gained a fifth rounder by virtue of the Jeff Wilson trade to the Miami Dolphins on the league’s trade deadline day.

Who Looks Like a 49ers Mid-Round Safety Fit?

It’s still the regular season, but there are those NFL pundits and fans who begin thinking about the next draft haul.

Regardless, the 49ers like every NFL team will have areas to address come April/May. Safety is already looking like an area of need. There’s a couple of names worth keeping an early eye on who come off as early mid-round talents:

Evan Williams, Fresno State: While Williams was a better ball-hawk in 2021 (three interceptions), he’s still lauded by the Bulldogs for his leadership and being a wicked downhill hitter — especially here:

Williams is also a Bay Area native, having played at nearby Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, located 16 minutes away from the Niners. The 49ers are already doing well with a past Bay Area guy in Alameda’s Aaron Banks. Williams is also playing for former NFL defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Could be a mid-round find in 2023.

Quindell Johnson, Memphis: Johnson came in as the 10th best safety prospect by Pro Football Focus before the season, indicating mid-rounder. But if the 49ers have to look for someone who’s a mix of coverage and aggression like Ward, plus is used to playing pass anyway, Johnson could be intriguing down the road.

‘Ward Will be More Sought After’

With the inevitable changes in the safety room, does Barrows believe that the 49ers will be severely hit in the offseason?

“Still, a lot of the current group of safeties will be back,” Barrows said. “Ward, Gipson and Tarvarius Moore are all heading for free agency. Gipson, however, was still available on Aug. 22 and at age 32 there won’t be a huge demand for him.”

However, regarding the captain, Barrows believes “Ward will be more sought after.”

As for depth moving forward, Barrows addressed who’s available to return.

“Which safeties are returning? Hufanga and George Odum as well as practice-squad rookies Tayler Hawkins and Qwuantrezz Knight. I know the scouting staff is very high on Knight, including as an ace special teamer,” Barrows said.

Regardless, Ward’s future and how the 49ers will address it remains a topic of discussion among 49er fans and media, with Barrows believing it won’t involve free agency.

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