Dee Ford fits the mold of the type of defensive end that Auburn has produced the last few years. Undersized and extremely athletic, he has been able to put opposing offensive linemen on edge with how fast he can attack up the field and his range. Ford has been able to give the Tigers a boost this year on defense and help them win some huge games this year with his speed and ability to get after the quarterback.
While a defensive end in college, he has experience as a standup end and is more suited to play linebacker at the next level that can contribute as a pass rusher. His feet and athletic ability are impressive and he displays an outstanding motor, but he needs to improve his hand use and get better at defeating blocks. Ford projects as a third day pick that can contribute as a developmental linebacker and pass rusher that should be able to land on a spot on special teams immediately.
Vitals & Build
Ford is listed at 6’2” 240lbs and he actually looks taller than his listed height. He certainly plays tall, which is not a good thing, but he does appear to have long arms. His strength appears to be better than his play suggests due to technical issues. Ford’s speed and explosion is impressive as his agility. His motor is impressive and he has an extra gear when he feels he can make a play. He appears to have fluid hips with the ability to change directions well, but needs to improve his balance and body control. Ford still appears to have room to add to his frame and add more muscle, but it does not appear that it will be a lift changing amount of strength going into the NFL.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Ford’s snap anticipation is good the majority of the time but there are times when he is late and it appears to be an issue of how he stands. He is experienced coming from both a standup end as well as with his hand in the ground. Ford is far more consistent with his snap anticipation from a down position, but he tends to be pretty good standing up as well.
From a standup end spot, Ford’s balance can be out of whack and when that happens, his snap anticipation is late. There are times when he gets too wide in his stance and he has trouble making an explosive move going forward.
In terms of his first step, Ford can be extremely effective. He has an explosive step forward and can cover a lot of ground. The issue with Ford is how tall he comes out of his stance and how often he tends to stand up as he goes forward. He has shown the ability to come out with all of his energy going forward but it needs to be more consistent.
Some of this might be corrected if he started from a lower stance when he is in a two point stance. His overall pad level is much better when he comes out of a three point stance for obvious reasons but he needs to maintain it throughout the play better. His listed height is only 6’2” but he looks far taller.
Ford has a difficult time shedding blocks. He is far and away most comfortable when he is able to take on half the man and dictate the action. Ford likes to use his speed and quickness to win and operates from his waist down quite a bit, which is good, but he needs to do a better job with his hands.
He avoids getting involved with the man straight on when at all possible and will sometimes avoid engaging as a result. In those situations, he will try to run around the play and in the process can sometimes take himself out of the play. On the plus side, Ford is fast enough where when he is free, he can come back and attack a play from behind.
Ford will occasionally flash a good amount of power and can catch opponents by surprise with strength. Some of this is due to the fact that Ford does primarily operate on speed and the opponent is simply not expecting it. Part of that is because Ford plays so high and only plays with a fraction of his power. The times he catches opponents by surprise, he is hitting them with a rising blow and getting a much stronger punch playing behind his hands.
Ford has trouble stopping the run. Most of this comes down to his pad level and when he plays so high, he makes himself a big target and has a ton of difficulty getting an anchor and holding up at the point of attack. Too often, Ford is engulfed and just bullied down the field with no real recourse.
When Ford is able to win against the run, it is usually a result of Ford being able to shoot gaps and stay low. In those situations, he is able to get into the backfield and has the quickness to make a play if the run is at him but also able to chase down plays from behind.
He does tend to play on the outside quite a bit, which is fine against offenses that want to attack the outside and as a result, Ford can run them down and protect the edge. Ford is also able to chase down plays from behind when he is free. He offers a terrific amount of range which is a big reason he would be more effective as a linebacker.
This is definitely where Ford is at his best, because of his speed and quickness. When he is right on the snap, he is quick enough where he can put opponents at an immediate disadvantage. Ford is able to turn the corner and flatten out to the quarterback but his leverage will get him in trouble. Ford plays too tall and needs to improve his ability to bend around the edge. When he is too tall, opponents are able to get enough of him to shove him past the play.
Ford has terrific feet and can set up opponents with quickness and his fluidity. He is extremely comfortable attacking at different angles and plant his foot in the ground to adjust the angle and give the opponent an adjustment. Ford is explosive from a standstill and gets good push from one leg as he adjusts his angle of attack. As a result, Ford can go from working the outside half of a blocker to getting to the inside and possibly exploiting the hole between the tackle and guard.
Ford’s leverage or lack thereof gets him in trouble in a lot of areas. First, he is a big target for and looks bigger than his size would suggest. Opponents are able to get their hands on him too easily and he has a difficult time getting away once engaged.
Ford flashes an impressive bull rush that he can use by coming right out of his stance with or adjusting from speed to power. When he has a low pad level and hits with a rising blow, Ford will catch and occasionally surprise opponents with a jolting punch that is able to get them off balance. Ford needs to use it more often to make his speed rush more viable but if he can play with a more consistent pad level, it has shown it can be extremely effective, so it is a waste not to use it more than he does.
His use of his hands and shedding blocks needs to improve. He struggles to shed blocks once engaged, but even in situations where he is able to work half the man, Ford can improve his hand use and generally uses his arm as a lever rather than really taking advantage of his hands.
One of the habits Ford needs to work on breaking is quitting on moves before they have really been used. There are times when he looks to use a move and will quit on it in the middle and bail out to get space and try to read what is going on with the football. Too often, he ends up doing nothing as a result.
Ford is athletic enough where he can attack up the field and wear an opponent down with his feet and quickness. When quarterbacks try to break the pocket and scramble or roll out, Ford has the speed and closing speed to chase them down from behind. Occasionally, Ford will get himself by playing too tall and make it difficult for him to adjust his angle and secure the tackle, resulting in a missed opportunity.
Ford’s best fit at the next level is as a linebacker. If he is in a 4-3, he could potentially play as a strong side linebacker that can blitz or put his hand on the ground in passing situations. Ford can also play as a leo backer or an outside linebacker in the 3-4. His biggest asset is his ability to rush the passer and while his ability to take on and shed blocks is a work in progress, his range and speed gives him potential as a run defender.
Ford should also be able to help a team on special teams. His build and athleticism make him a great fit to contribute on almost every special teams unit.
Ford’s game is similar to that of Chris Carter of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coming out of Fresno State, Carter was a productive pass rusher much the way Ford has been, but had work to do taking on blocks and his overall development. As a fifth round pick, Carter has been in the pipeline for the Steelers that have had him as a special teams player and depth at the outside linebacker position. Ford could have more success than Carter has experienced so far in his career, but he might have to take a similar path to get there.
Ford has a lot of athleticism and raw speed that has enabled him to be a productive pass rusher this season for Auburn. He is still not a finished product and needs to improve how he takes on and sheds blocks as well as his leverage, but his tenacity and motor will score him some points in war rooms. Ford projects as a third day pick with some upside that could be an every down linebacker but should be able to contribute as a pass rusher and special teams threat.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com