Dee Ford, Auburn (John Biever/SI)
Though nowhere near the level of Blake Bortles to Jacksonville or the Browns' roundabout chase of Johnny Manziel, Kansas City threw a bit of a curve ball at No. 23 overall, drafting edge rusher Dee Ford of Auburn.
Ford flashed some tantalizing abilities off the edge for the Tigers, then really raised his stock at the Senior Bowl. Despite sitting out the combine due to a medical precaution (which should be of no real concern moving forward), Ford took time to declare himself a more complete player than Jadeveon Clowney, who went No. 1 in the draft.
Time will tell if Ford can prove that boast true. In the immediate future, the focus will be on how Kansas City plans to get the most of Ford's abilities.
Strengths: As a pure pass-rusher, Ford comes off the snap with great velocity, which he’s able to turn into impressive power for his size (6-2, 252). Can bring a nascent bull-rush against tight ends and tackles from time to time, and will generally come up well in power battles as long as he gets his hands on blockers quickly. Ford has light feet and will jump gaps to stunt and use an inside counter to stay active and bring pressure. Forces offenses to align their blocking schemes to him pretty frequently; he faces a lot of tight end chips and double teams. Has the bend around the edge (dip-and-rip) to get under the pads of tackles and move quickly to create pocket disruption.
Ford shows estimable body control and discipline when he’s asked to read run plays and cover in short areas — he follows the action well and will adjust as a true linebacker (as opposed to a one-dimensional pass-rusher) might. Wasn’t asked to drop into coverage a lot, but has the potential to do so. Unlike a lot of outside linebacker conversion projects, Ford didn’t get washed out when he wasn’t given free space — he can excel in close quarters. Has long enough arms to pop blockers right off the snap.
Weaknesses: Ford could stand to use his hands better and more effectively — as active as he is, he’d be more purely disruptive if he had the ability to consistently redirect blockers with rip, spin and swim moves. And though his inside moves are decent, he will need to get quicker with his feet on those quick inside cuts and counters. Ford will lose blocks if he doesn’t gain quick leverage, such as plays when he’s chasing opponents. And he’ll need to develop his coverage technique at the next level — he tends to follow, and doesn’t turn his head.
Are the Chiefs beginning to prepare for life after Tamba Hali? The 2006 draft pick will turn 31 during the 2014 season and missed time last year due to injury issues. Whether that's the plan or not, the Chiefs will have to figure out exactly what to do with Ford in 2014. Even though he believes himself to be further along than Clowney, Ford clearly needs a little time to improve his technique. He should be granted that opportunity behind Hali and Justin Houston in Kansas City, and the patience may pay off down the line.
But for a team that made a surprising playoff run last season and certainly appears to be in win-now mode, taking on more of a long-term project like Ford goes against the grain quite a bit. Maybe too much.
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