MOBILE, Ala. - At the Ravens' season-review news conference earlier this month, general manager Ozzie Newsome said Baltimore needs to add an athletic safety that can make some big plays.
The Ravens took safety Matt Elam in the first round of last year's NFL draft, but Elam is considered more of a strong safety than he is the rangy, Ed Reed-type of playmaker Baltimore would like to have at free safety.
Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois is undersized and measured in earlier this week at just 5-foot-10, 191 pounds, but he may fit what the Ravens are looking for as a complement to Elam.
"He's a very good athlete. He mentioned his cover ability. And he's got ball skills," said Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and a former Ravens executive. "You know, if the ball's in the air, he'll go catch it, and that was the thing that was kind of exciting about him. ...
"I think he's got an excellent chance because the way the safety position has evolved in the NFL with so many three and four wide receivers and so many tight ends that can run down the field. You need safeties that can cover, so that's right in his wheelhouse."
James Ihedigbo was Baltimore's starting strong safety this season, but he is unlikely to be retained as a free agent. Elam would then likely move over to strong safety, and the Ravens could then look for a player like Ward to play free safety.
Ward had 95 tackles, seven interceptions and 17 pass deflections as a senior this past season.
What Ward runs in the 40-yard dash will play a big role in where he is drafted, but NFLDraftScout.com has him projected to go during the third round. What could help his stock some is that he appears capable of helping on special teams.
He said at the Senior Bowl this week that he played on the kick and punt coverage teams at Northern Illinois.
He had three blocked kicks as a freshman in 2010.
"I think the big thing for Jimmie is, he's a little slender, undersized, so you want to see [whether] he can hold up and what is he like in run support?," said former NFL scout and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks. "But he was a really good player in the MAC [conference], and I think a lot of people kind of have their eye on him."