49ers roster: Tough choices looming with Jimmie Ward, Jason Verrett

Jimmie Ward #1 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Jimmie Ward #1 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

It’s a good problem to have, but the 49ers are getting some reinforcements back in defenders Jimmie Ward and Jason Verrett. But where to play them?

The San Francisco 49ers own arguably the best defense in the entire NFL through four weeks, and the majority of stats back up that statement with few questions.

And this has happened in light of the Niners missing a number of key players due to injury.

Including two of their veteran defensive backs, safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Jason Verrett.

Verrett, who missed all but one game in 2021 because of a torn ACL suffered in Week 1, slowly worked his way back to full strength during the offseason and over the first four weeks of 2022, beginning the year on the reserve/physically unable-to-perform list, whereas Ward suffered a hamstring injury at the end of the preseason and was forced to head to injured reserve.

Ahead of its Week 5 road contest against the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco has opened the practice window for both players, signaling a possible return for this game.

Granted, the 49ers don’t have to activate either player right away after opening the practice window, and there’s a four-week grace period before either having to activate the player or reverting them back to season-ending IR.

Jason Verrett, SF 49ers
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jason Verrett (22) Mandatory Credit: San Francisco 49ers/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network /

However, in both Ward and Verrett’s cases, the return seems nearly imminent.

The major question, though, is where would the Niners deploy them on their depth chart.

49ers defense has played well without Jimmie Ward, Jason Verrett

It seems an odd thing to say, as both Ward and Verrett actually improve San Francisco’s secondary. But, the 49ers defense has gotten by just fine without them.

Case in point, the Niners have the No. 1-ranked scoring defense, are tied for first in fewest yards allowed, are giving up the fewest yards per play at 3.8 and have given up the second-fewest pass yards on the season.

Looking strictly at the position players, fill-in free safety Tashaun Gipson has been a revelation, having allowed only four completions on nine targets with opposing quarterbacks posting a 32.4 passer rating when targeting him.

In tandem with fellow safety Talanoa Hufanga, himself a rising star, San Francisco’s safeties have been awfully good.

And at cornerback, the outside duo of Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley have been equally as impressive. Ward’s passer rating against is a tiny 38.3, while Moseley has 19 tackles and three passes broken up, proving to be as reliable as ever.

Would the 49ers consider demoting any one of those players, particularly Moseley and Gipson, for the duo of Jimmie Ward and Verrett?

Where do 49ers deploy Jimmie Ward, Jason Verrett?

This isn’t a bad problem to have. The Niners have done more than just “get by” without Ward and Verrett. They’ve excelled.

However, San Francisco can afford to be flexible with its defensive deployments.

For starters, with the league employing plenty of pass-happy formations, a three-safety set is becoming more and more common, prompting the idea of Ward returning to boost the duo of Gipson and Hufanga, allowing the latter to stay closer to the box where he is currently thriving.

Read More: These Niners have impressed us most over first 4 weeks of 2022

Likewise, Verrett might be tasked with filling one of the 49ers’ few weaknesses on defense, and a questionable one at that, at nickel cornerback. Unlike the boundary spots, the Niners have rotated two defensive backs here with Deommodore Lenoir getting the recent nod over the upstart rookie, Samuel Womack.

It’s tricky, though, as Verrett has been a boundary corner for nearly the entirety of his career, suggesting it’s not automatic he returns on the inside.

But, however, San Francisco does have that option. And given Verrett’s lengthy injury history, it might be wise to avoid deploying him heavily right out of the gate.

Either way, the point is the 49ers defense is only going to get stronger with both players poised to return, reinforcing the notion of this being a great problem to have heading into the next stretch of the season.

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