+Elite speed and straight line quickness
+Good fundamentals as a pass rusher
-Comes into the NFL with no experience at his most natural position
-Average laterally for his size
-Needs to find a secondary pass rush move
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford strikes me as a bit overrated, in large part because he doesn’t have a great secondary move as a pass rusher, which could really hurt his career, plus he has no experience at his NFL position, outside linebacker.
Ford has decent measurables. He has mediocre height even for a 3-4 outside linebacker at 6’2, below average bulk at 243lbs, and solid speed with a 4.67 40 yard dash according to NFLDraftScout.com. He looks faster on film, and I expect him to run in the low 4.6s at the combine assuming he doesn’t add weight, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Ford is an intriguing pass rushing talent but I have questions about how his pass rushing will translate to the NFL. Ford has a great speed rush. He gets a great jump off the ball, he has great straight line quickness, he uses his hands well to protect his body, and he gets outstanding leverage. I’m not going to deny that he is very good in this respect. What worries me is the secondary moves. Frankly, no NFL defensive lineman can make a living using only a speed rush. An offensive lineman would get a huge kick slide on every passing down and not even pretend to respect any inside counter move. All sack masters in the NFL can create pressure using something other than a speed rush. For most of the guys with long limbs, such as Aldon Smith, it’s a good swim/rip move. For others, it’s a club move combined with outstanding body control and change of direction skills, like Cameron Wake. Some guys use a bull rush. If you have ever seen Dwight Freeney play football, you know that for him, it’s a spin move. The bottom line is that every good pass rusher has secondary moves in his arsenal that can create pressure other than the speed rush. They need to keep an offensive line honest. The problem with Ford is that not only does he not have an NFL caliber secondary move, but it’s tough to imagine him developing one. He uses decent fundamentals with the swim move, but his arms are so short that it is tough to imagine his swim move being legitimate weapon at the NFL level. Yet, unlike most of the undersized but quick defensive ends, a spin move or just a sharp inside cut is out of the question, since all of his quickness comes in the form of a straight line. He doesn’t have the lateral quickness and body control necessary to make Cameron Wake like cuts to get offensive linemen off balance. He doesn’t have the strength for a bull rush and needs more strength if he wants a passable club move. He has shown potential with a long-arm technique. The long arm technique is almost like a one-arm bull rush, and every single time an NFL defensive lineman gets called for a “Personal foul, hands to the face” penalty, it’s usually on that move. First of all, anyone who can dunk a basketball will tell you it is easier to dunk with one hand than two, and that’s because you can extend one arm a greater distance than two. The long arm technique takes advantage of this fact, and is commonly used by short armed defensive linemen. The move, when executed correctly, is basically punching one arm within inches of the neck of the offensive lineman and driving him off the ball with that arm. No one uses this move so effectively that it can truly act as a sufficient counter move by itself, but it is a start.
However, there is hope for Ford. There is one good pass rusher with his physical skill set. One guy who doesn’t have arms long enough for stuff like the swim move and not enough lateral quickness and body control to really demand attention with a spin move. It’s Clay Matthews. Matthews looks identical to Ford in terms of his speed rushing. When he is not speed rushing, Matthews gets sacks from delayed blitzes and stunts, but also from hand usage that Ford could learn to imitate. Matthews has the quickest hands I have ever seen. If he hadn’t become a football player, he could have been a great boxer with those quick hands. Not only are they incredibly quick, but they are insanely precise, and they completely make up for his lack of length. Most guys like Matthews struggle when engaged in blocks because they don’t have the length to even touch the chest of their opponents. Matthews is different. He concedes the fact that he can’t touch his opponent’s chest most of the time, and makes up for it by swatting at the arms of opponents to quickly and precisely that they can’t touch his chest either. I don’t expect him to be as good as Matthews, but if he can learn to use his hands at a level anywhere close to that of Matthews, he should be able to get 12 sacks a year. That’s the best case scenario, but the more likely one is that he gets closer to 7.
Even if Ford does develop a more dangerous secondary move, there is another problem. Like Brandon Graham, Melvin Ingram, Jerry Hughes, Dontay Moch, and Sam Acho, he will enter the NFL with absolutely no experience at his natural position: outside linebacker. First of all, the idea that Ford will play defensive end in the NFL is absolutely ridiculous. He lacks length and strength, and he constantly got rag-dolled against the run against SEC offensive tackles. Auburn often subbed him out last season on rushing downs. I’m not holding that against him; at his size, I’d be shocked by anything to the contrary. He did a decent job when matched up against tight ends, and that’s all I really expects. He would have to add at least 25lbs to even consider defensive end at the NFL level, and even then his lack of length will really work against him as a run stopper. So he will have to play outside linebacker at the NFL level, probably in a 3-4 if you believe in his pass rushing. At this point, he has virtually no experience in coverage, nor does he have a ton of range, and his open field tackling needs work. He lacks body control and is prone to and will over-pursue en route to the ball carrier. He also isn’t the strongest guy in the world, and he doesn’t have much experience tackling. Frankly, he only had 29 tackles last year, and given that he had 10.5 sacks, he only had 18 tackles that weren’t sacks in 12 games in 2013, and only 6 solo tackles of non-quarterbacks during the entire season. That strikes me as cause for concern.
Ultimately, I don’t like Dee Ford as a first round prospect. Like many recent busts, such as Brandon Graham and Melvin Ingram, he has no experience at his natural NFL position, since NFL defensive ends just aren’t 6’2, 243lbs. His secondary pass rush moves are also quite questionable.
NFL Comparison: Jerry Hughes. Hughes was a one dimensional speed rusher who floundered in Indianapolis as they tried to make him a defensive end, and after that failed they let him play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He improved, but it was still a new position and there were growing pains along the way, so he got shipped off to Buffalo. He had a decent season last year playing outside linebacker. What is concerning, though, is that Ford’s ability to stop the run. Hughes came into the NFL at least 10lbs heavier than Ford and he was passable against the run at the collegiate level. Ford, on the other hand, was horrendous against the run in college. Again, I’m giving him a free pass in that sense just because he was a 6’2, 243lbs SEC defensive end, but if his struggles against the run can’t solely be attributed to the ridiculous matchups he received, he may have a problem.
Grade: 82 (worthy of a late second round pick)
Projection: 93 (will be a late first round pick)