Grant Delpit

Jimmie Ward warns 49ers against replacing him with top draft prospects

Jimmie Ward warns 49ers against replacing him with top draft prospects

Jimmie Ward would prefer to remain with the 49ers, assuming they offer him the kind of contract he is looking for in free agency. But if that isn't in the cards, the free safety has thoughts on how San Francisco should go about replacing him.

There have been a number of safeties -- both free agents and draft prospects -- whose names have been associated with the 49ers. Ward has heard the rumors, but he doesn't view them as realistic, and recently took to Instagram to explain why.

"[Anthony] Harris is going to be more expensive than me in free agency FYI," Ward began. Considering Spotrac projects the Vikings' free agent to command an average annual salary of $13.8 million on his next contract, it's difficult to argue with that first point.

Next, Ward moved his attention to the draft prospects.

"If you draft a safety in the first round, the two names y'all keep throwing up every other day ... just know you can't use them how our DC used me this past season. ... Best bet is to draft a coverage safety in the later rounds to get a steal."

The two safety prospects being connected to San Francisco's first-round draft pick (No. 31 overall) are Alabama's Xavier McKinney and LSU's Grant Delpit. Both prospects are larger than Ward, which could be a benefit when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh frequently used Ward as a single-high safety this past season, however, in which range and coverage skills are paramount for the last line of defense.

Clearly, Ward doesn't think McKinney and Delpit are capable of providing that skill set.

[RELATED: If Ward leaves, 49ers have safety options in 2020 draft]

Finally, Ward closed with an endorsement of his understudy.

"Stick with [Tarvarius Moore] at safety if they don't sign me back!"

Moore transitioned back to his natural position of free safety last season after being tried at cornerback as a rookie and showed some promise, even intercepting a pass in the Super Bowl. Selected with the No. 95 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Moore has two more seasons remaining on his rookie contract at a very affordable price. In theory, San Francisco could elevate Moore to the starting job and save money at that position that the team could use elsewhere, such as in contract extensions for standouts George Kittle and DeForest Buckner.

You don't often see a pending free agent give his incumbent team advice on how to replace him. Given Ward's reputation in the 49ers' locker room, though, it's no surprise that he would advocate for a teammate.

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

Clemson vs. LSU: Ranking six NFL draft prospects 49ers should watch

There were moments to hold your breath, but in the end, the 49ers made easy work of the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in their NFC divisional-round playoff game. 

San Francisco now faces Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, and are one win away from Super Bowl LIV in Miami. And while The Faithful is dreaming of sunshine and palm trees already, the 49ers' front office will have their eyes on a talent-laden college game. 

When two undefeated Tigers look to tame each other Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, there will be a plethora of NFL draft talent between Clemson and LSU. As the 49ers keep winning, however, their draft slot keeps sliding. 

For a team without many holes on its roster, the 49ers should still be able to find talent near the end of the first round. If prospects from this season's national championship fall to them in April, general manager John Lynch will be grinning from ear to ear. 

Here are six prospects, ranked by fit, that the 49ers should have their eyes on in this year's natty. 

6. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Running back could actually be a bigger need than wide receiver for the 49ers in 2020. No, you didn't read that wrong. And no, this coffee isn't Irish. 

Tevin Coleman carried the 49ers past the Vikings, but the five-year veteran has no guaranteed money on his contract next season. Matt Breida is a restricted free agent and it sure seems likely the front office moves on from Jerick McKinnon, who has missed the last two seasons with injuries after signing a four-year, $30 million contract in March 2018.

That leaves just Raheem Mostert, who broke out this season at 27 years old. With his speed and versatility, Etienne could be a great compliment to Mostert, who still serves as a special teams star. 

Etienne has combined for 3,194 yards rushing yards the last two seasons and 48 total touchdowns. Oh, and he has game-changing speed. 

Shanahan could get the very best out of Etienne. Teams will vary their opinions on the explosive running back, but it's easy to see why he could thrive on the 49ers.

5. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The 49ers could have a really interesting decision to make if Jefferson is on the board at the end of the first round. With so much receiver talent in this year's class, that could easily happen, too. 

As a junior this season, Jefferson turned into an absolute star. He hauled in four touchdowns in the Peach Bowl and has 18 on the year. The 6-3 target can play inside or outside, though he really thrived when he turned into a long slot receiver. 

Does coach Kyle Shanahan tell Lynch to make Jefferson his newest toy? Or does Lynch tell the coach the 49ers have bigger needs? 

Jefferson's spot in the draft will be really interesting. Another big game against Clemson will only help his stock.

4. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

Don't throw the ball to Terrell's side. Raiders second-round pick and former Clemson Tiger, Trayvon Mullen, looks like a quality starter for years to come. Terrell might be better. 

Terrell, 6-1 and 190 pounds, is rangy and knows how to use his hands as a physical corner in stride. He doesn't shy away from contact and invites QBs who wish to challenge him. 

There's no doubt Terrell should be mentioned with Kristian Fulton (see below). He might fall further than the LSU Tiger, but this Clemson corner is a stud.

3. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Richard Sherman is a baller. That was true five years ago, and still is today at 31 years old. But Sherman can only cover one side of the field. 

As 49ers fan saw the past two weeks, in the two biggest games of the year, Ahkello Witherspoon sure doesn't look like the answer in Year 3. Emmanuel Moseley is solid, but he also is far from a star. 

Fulton, however, could be a shut-down corner at the next level. He played a bit banged up this season, yet still had 13 passes defensed. 

It seems likely Fulton will be gone by the time the 49ers are selecting, but another top corner could still be on the board in Terrell.

2. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the 49ers need help at wide receiver. 

Rookie Deebo Samuel already is a real weapon in Kyle Shanahan's offense and looks like a future, versatile star. Kendrick Bourne was the highest-graded 49ers offensive player in their playoff win over the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus, but isn't a No. 1 option. 

Higgins can be. At 6-4, 215 pounds, Higgins has ideal NFL size as an outside threat. And he can make catches like this. 

And this.

The 49ers need a game-changer on the outside. In a deep receiver class, Higgins could be around late into Day 1. If he's there, Lynch needs to make him a Niner.

1. Grant Delpit, S, LSU

The draft always is unpredictable, but it seems highly unlikely if Delpit hasn't been taken by the time the 49ers are on the clock. That doesn't mean he isn't the best fit, though. 

Delpit is the top safety in the draft and a top-10 talent. The 2019 Thorpe Award winner is 6-foot-3, 203 pounds and has plenty of Derwin James in him. 

Now that we know Robert Saleh will return to the 49ers, the defensive coordinator could have a lot of fun with a player who can do this: 

[RELATED: 2020 NFL mock draft: 49ers, Raiders picks before national title]

Jimmie Ward will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The defense is completely different with Jaquiski Tartt. Pair him with Delpit, and the 49ers would have a dangerous duo at the back of their defense. 

2019 Peach Bowl: LSU, Oklahoma NFL draft prospects 49ers fans should watch

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2019 Peach Bowl: LSU, Oklahoma NFL draft prospects 49ers fans should watch

The NFC West and top seed in the playoffs are on the line for the 49ers come Sunday. All eyes will be on their showdown in Seattle against the Seahawks.

Prior to that, though, football fans will turn their attention to the College Football Playoff. It all starts in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers playing the No. 4-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. 

There will be talent all over the field, starting with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who took home the Heisman Trophy and likely is headed to the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. While the 49ers will be picking near the end of the first round and plenty of talent from this game already will be called, general manager John Lynch should be locked in on this semifinal game. 

Here are four players from the 2019 Peach Bowl who the 49ers should be watching. 

Grant Delpit, S, LSU

Delpit's draft stock has fallen after a sensational sophomore season, which should be a positive to 49ers fans. If Delpit falls to the end of the first round, he could wind up being the steal of the draft. 

Much of Delpit's less impressive stats come from him playing through multiple injuries as a junior. When healthy, the 6-foot-3, 203-pounder can play like Chargers star Derwin James. 

Entering the Peach Bowl, Delpit has 190 tackles -- 16 for loss -- in his three-year career with six sacks, eight interceptions and 23 passes defensed. He has struggled this season with missed tackles, but Delpit is a do-it-all safety who can be a star at the next level. 

Jimmie Ward will be a free agent after this season, and the 49ers need to make an upgrade at safety. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh would have a lot of fun with Delpit if the Jim Thorpe Award winner falls to San Francisco.

Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

Fulton will get a hell of a test in the Peach Bowl when he lines up against Sooners star receiver CeeDee Lamb. The senior cornerback is elite in coverage and can run with the best of them, though. 

Fulton has one interception and 12 passes defensed this season. The stats don't tell the whole story when it comes to this Tiger. Opposing quarterbacks simply don't look his way, and for good reason. 

Richard Sherman still is elite when healthy, but the 49ers should be eyeing the top cornerbacks in the draft. Ahkello Witherspoon only has been healthy for nine games this season and San Francisco needs a top corner opposite of Sherman. 

Fulton, 6-0, 200 pounds, doesn't fit the long body that Saleh usually looks for. That shouldn't be a red flag, though. He can be a top corner at the next level and should get a long look if he somehow is there when the 49ers are on the clock. 

Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

It's no surprise the 49ers need to be looking at receivers in the draft. Deebo Samuel could turn into a star, Emmanuel Sanders will be a free agent and Kendrick Bourne is a solid role player. Outside of that, it's nothing more than a shoulder shrug. 

That can change when Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor are healthy, but that won't stop the 49ers from scouting this deep draft class. 

Jefferson broke out this season while Burrow turned into a superstar. The 6-3 target went from the outside to the inside and the change brought huge numbers. The junior enters Saturday with 88 receptions for 1,207 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Coach Kyle Shanahan has had success in the past with big slot receivers like Mohamed Sanu, and Jefferson has experience on the inside and outside. He certainly should be available for the 49ers in the first round and even if San Francisco decides to trade back into Round 2. 

The 49ers will have their eyes on a wide array of receivers and Jefferson is just one of them.

Creed Humphrey, OL, Oklahoma

For a team that doesn't have too many holes, Humphrey could make a lot of sense at the end of the first round or if the 49ers trade back. 

[RELATED: Five 49ers to watch vs. Seahawks]

Humphrey isn't the most athletic lineman, though he could be a versatile one. He lines up as the Sooners' center and should be able to transition to guard. The 49ers are locked on the outside at tackle but need help on the interior. 

Humphrey is a redshirt sophomore who has been the anchor for dominant offenses the last two seasons. He can move along the inside of the line and gets nasty in the trenches to make up for not having elite athleticism.