5 draft picks 49ers can select to replace Jimmie Ward

Ji'Ayir Brown #16 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Ji'Ayir Brown #16 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /
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The 49ers lost Jimmie Ward in free agency this offseason, but these NFL Draft prospects could end up being the perfect long-term replacement.

It was in no way as high-profile a loss as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo departing for the Las Vegas Raiders.

But, the San Francisco 49ers losing veteran defensive back Jimmie Ward to NFL free agency is a pretty substantial blow, especially considering he was both a team captain and the longest-tenured player on the Niners roster throughout 2022.

Ward is gone now, off to the Houston Texans where he’ll join San Francisco’s former defensive coordinator, now-Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans.

In the interim, the 49ers retained last year’s starting free safety, Tashuan Gipson, on a one-year deal.

Gipson, 32 years old, mulled over retirement earlier this offseason, and he’s probably not a long-term option anyway even if he wanted to keep playing beyond this year.

So, with the 2023 NFL Draft just around the corner, one might expect the Niners to use one of their 11 picks on a Ward replacement, particularly if some valuable ones can be had late on day two and throughout day three where San Francisco has its selections.

Here are five safeties worth targeting.

Ji'Ayir Brown. 5. player. 806. . Safety. Nittany Lions

49ers safety target No. 5: Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State

Leading off the list of potential Ward replacements is Ji’Ayir Brown, whose versatility and flexibility aren’t unlike that of the former.

Brown, 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, didn’t test particularly well at the NFL Combine earlier this spring, and that might push his draft stock down as far as Round 5.

However, armed with three selections in that round, the 49ers could be hoping Brown slips because of that.

While Brown takes some risks, especially on the back end, his playmaking production at a big school within a big conference is there. Over the last two years, he tallied 10 interceptions and eight passes broken up, and he also notched 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for a loss in 2022, showing his ability to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage.

If anything, Brown could help bolster the depth chart behind Gipson with the long-term goal of emerging as a starter.