If you think the 49ers made a mistake by taking a safety, hold that thought. In fact, throw it away. Shout, "Good for the 49ers."
For starters, they drafted for defense. They are a dominant defensive team and they kept that tradition going, maintained their identity as a bunch of rough and tough defenders.
Remind yourself of that. Teams entertain with offense, but they win with defense. And the 49ers needed a cornerback and they took Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois. When you think of him as a safety — not a cornerback — I say, "Not so fast."
Ward is listed as a safety, but the 49ers may not use him as a safety — not exclusively, not primarily.
Harbaugh did some explaining after the draft. Harbaugh, by the way, seemed all done in. Bone tired. Spoke in a whisper. He is a puzzling guy, open to endless interpretation. Like a character from Dostoevsky. Maybe he was worn out. Maybe the Niners didn't get a player he wanted and he was working that out in his noodle. Or maybe he was just in a bad mood — having one of those days.
He had these things to say about Ward. Call this a combined quote:
"Competing in the secondary as a safety and a nickel. Something we thought he would excel at. Just a step ahead of the rest of the defense ... He's going to play the safety position with corner skills ... He'll have that shot as a nickel player ... He is a presence."
What's the key piece of Harbaugh information?
Simple. Ward will compete to be a nickel cornerback. Point of information — Ward played nickel back at Northern Illinois. He played nickel 40 percent of the time. That was Ward's informal estimate during a conference call with the media.
A nickel is a cornerback. A nickel plays the slot. A nickel is a physical cornerback, someone who can hit runners near the line of scrimmage and make them suffer. Exactly what the Niners need.