The 49ers' Biggest Non-Trey-Lance Storyline: The Return of Dee Ford

Dee Ford looks good.
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Throughout the offseason, I’ve considered Dee Ford to be a wildcard. The type of player you don’t necessarily expect anything from, but if he contributes in any fashion it has to be considered a bonus. 

Well, let me tell you, Ford looks real good.

After seeing him with pads on, it looks like the 49ers may be in line for that bonus. It is still extremely early, and there is a long way to go until the regular season; however, the team has to feel good about what they see from Ford.

I was present at the 49ers’ practice yesterday, and here are a few Ford observations that stood out to me:

  • Plain and simple: his movement- Yesterday was the first practice with pads on. Ford looked highly comfortable being around contact and looked like his spry, quick-twitch self. If a non-follower of Ford were to observe him on the football field, there is no way that person would’ve guessed that there was a ton of speculation just months ago that he may retire due to injury and health concerns.
  • Pass Rushing- Obviously, this is what Ford gets paid to do. He looked explosive in both 1 on 1s and 11 on 11s. Most notably, he appeared to speed around Mike McGlinchey for a would-be sack during team drills.
  • Containing Trey Lance- Lance ran the ball a lot and broke off a few significant gains. On multiple occasions, something that grabbed my attention was Ford taking terrific angles on Lance and forcing him out of bounds. Lance’s ability to run the football and pick up chunk yardage adds a new element on offense, and Ford being able to keep up with him is a testament to how well he’s moving around.

Remembering Dee Ford as an X-Factor 

Last summer, I wrote an article detailing how Ford is the X-factor of the team’s defense. Their 2019 defense was significantly better with Ford than without him.

StatisticWith FordWithout Ford

Points Allowed Per Game



Passing Yards Allowed Per Game



Sacks Per Game



Nick Bosa's Sacks Per Game



*Note: Ford played four snaps against the Saints before re-injuring himself, and those statistics are accounted for in the "without Ford" column. 

Fun fact: The 49ers had more sacks (13) during the three postseason games with Ford on the field than the six games without him during the regular season (9 sacks). 

Although there is so much to be excited about regarding Ford’s progress, the reality is he’s completely unreliable. The past two seasons, he has played only five or more snaps in 10 of 32 possible regular season games.

The keyword with Ford is “bonus.” Luckily for the 49ers, their defensive line is loaded. Even if Ford cannot contribute, the team’s pass rush has a lot to work with.

In pass-rushing situations, the interior will likely feature Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Jones, Maurice Hurst Jr., Kevin Givens, Zach Kerr, and Kentavius Street. The edges of the defensive line will likely feature Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam and Arden Key.

With or without Ford, there is a lot of talent and potential on the 49ers defensive front. But a few things need to happen for the 49ers pass rush to get back to 2019 form:

  1. Bosa has to get back to his 2019 form.
  2. Kinlaw has to make major strides in Year 2.
  3. Ebukam has to transition well into his new role of being a speed rusher off the edge.

If those three things happen and Dee Ford can produce double-digit effective pass-rushing snaps consistently, then the potential is there for this unit to be even better than 2019.

That’s the kind of bonus Ford could provide, and it’s a big one.

Follow me on Twitter: @NinerNick_22