49ers can draft Jimmie Ward’s replacement out of Cal

California Golden Bears safety Daniel Scott (32) Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
California Golden Bears safety Daniel Scott (32) Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers will need to find a long-term answer at free safety after letting Jimmie Ward walk, and the 2023 NFL Draft has a prospect out of Cal who fits the bill.

There are plenty of reasons why the San Francisco 49ers elected to bid farewell to their longest-tenured player, defensive back Jimmie Ward, when the 2023 league new year hit last March.

Ward was getting up there in age, and the Niners were already pressed up against the salary cap. On top of that, Ward was phased out of his natural free safety position by fellow veteran defensive back Tashaun Gipson for almost all of 2022, too.

While Ward wasn’t expendable, San Francisco deemed it necessary to turn the page, and he ultimately followed his former defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, in heading to the Houston Texans in NFL free agency.

Gipson is back with the 49ers on a one-year deal. But, after mulling over a possible retirement during the offseason, the Niners nevertheless have to consider long-term plans to replace Ward and, eventually, Gipson.

Thankfully, there’s a name in the 2023 NFL Draft who just might fit the bill.

Cal’s Daniel Scott can be a perfect 49ers addition to replace Jimmie Ward

San Francisco isn’t selecting in this year’s draft until late in Round 3. But, armed with three compensatory picks (Nos. 99, 101 and 102) to close out the round, general manager John Lynch can shotgun his approach to improving the depth chart.

If replacing Ward is a priority, Cal safety Daniel Scott is a player 49ers fans should watch late on day two of the draft.

Daniel Scott Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 4/6/2023.

The 25-year-old Scott might not be as juicy a prospect as some younger defensive backs who’ll go earlier, and plenty of draft experts tab Scott as nothing more than a late third-round pick.

That said, the 6-foot-1 and 208-pound Scott has been a team captain for the Golden Bears and has the reputation of being a quality leader, not unlike Ward during his latter tenure with the Niners.

In fact, a recent NFL.com mock draft actually had Scott going to San Francisco with one of those three third-round picks.

Why taking Daniel Scott in NFL Draft would be a smart move by 49ers

Scott isn’t a perfect prospect. As Damian Parson of The Draft Network pointed out, Scott isn’t the best tackler and should also be considered a liability in defending against the run.

That said, there are a lot of plusses that’d make Scott a likable target for the 49ers toward the end of Round 3.

One of the best attributes is Scott’s range. A 4.45 40-yard time at the NFL Combine helps, but Scott shows the game speed to cover sideline to sideline with little difficulty, and there’s a Ward-like ability to play multiple positions, too.

As Parson pointed out:

"Scott is a fluid mover with the range necessary to fit the role of a centerfield/single-high safety. He displays the range to trigger from up-high to close on the football. Scott can work from up high and cover sideline to sideline in the passing game. I do love the versatility and upside as a walked-down nickel defender."

The Niners already have an All-Pro safety in Talanoa Hufanga, whose second-year leap was quite remarkable. But Hufanga’s fit with San Francisco’s defense is largely contingent upon being closer to the line of scrimmage.

Not back deep in coverage.

A player like Scott would allow defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to deploy more single-high coverage and place Hufanga in the box where his strengths are maximized.

As long as Scott could improve his tackling, the 49ers would have an ideally constructed secondary and last line of defense between the former Cal product and the All-Pro, Hufanga.

Next. 49ers fix free-agent losses in this 7-round mock draft. dark