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2021 NFL Draft Prospect Safety Paris Ford

speed, athleticism plus superior desire

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Quick Lane Bowl - Pitt v Eastern Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Football is a game that is best played when it’s played with emotion, especially NFL football. Sometimes emotion is hard to come by, as a grueling season can sap your physical and mental energies. It’s nice to have a player or two who ooze positive energy, who inspire with not only words and intensity but also with big plays. A big play can insert a jolt of adrenaline. An extra effort or a huge hit can lift the spirits of an entire team. Someone who puts his own bodily welfare on the line to create a big hit or uses an extraordinary effort can ignite a team.

Paris Ford is a player with some of those qualities. Pat Narduzzi (the head coach at Pitt) said that sometimes Ford gets so fired up for a game he can’t see straight. Now that may be a bit of an overstatement but Ford is an intense player at a fragile 6’, 190 lbs. Ford is always talking to his fellow defenders, firing them up while making sure everyone is in the right position. He is a fast flowing, instinctive player who reads plays quickly, then reacts in an instant.

This is often an underappreciated trait in a player: the ability to read, then react quickly. A hesitation or momentary lapse can foil the ability to make the play. This is common for most players, as they have to think of what to do instead of just seeing, then doing. Having the trait of quick reaction is paramount to a safety, especially a deep safety who is usually far away from the play.

The Jets are in need of a fast, free flowing leader on the back end of the defense. Ashtyn Davis is still young and hasn’t taken a leadership role yet. Marcus Maye has been tagged and may or may not sign a long term deal with the Jets. I know that Joe Douglas said re-signing Maye is a priority but there are no guarantees that he will be back after 2021. After the last few years of turmoil with Adam Gase at the helm, who would blame Maye for finding greener pastures and a fresh start to his career?

So let’s see what Ford can do on the field. He is in the top 4 of my safety prospects right now, he could either rise or fall with more info via tape. You will see speed, smarts, instinctive plays and impressive hits which are a good start, but a safety needs to be more than that.

On this first play Ford is playing in a shallow mid-field matchup zone defense. At the snap he is watching the QB’s eyes since his eyes will take him to the ball. Once the QB looks right Ford knows he is looking for his tight end, who is doing a 10 yard curl pattern instead of running the seam. Ford also knows his team has good pass rushers and on this play they are using 5 rushers. The QB will have little time to find a target.

Ford immediately sees this and runs under the pattern to either intercept the ball or take away the QB’s outlet. The QB has to wait for the tight end to make his curl but by that time it is too late, Ford is in the direct line of the play. This was a quick deciphering of the play by Ford, but he is not done yet.

When the QB pulls the ball down, then starts running to his left, Ford knows he can’t throw back to the tight end so his coverage duties are done. He then takes the perfect angle to the QB and puts a shoulder pad into his chest, a hard powerful blow that destroys any chance of a completion and also could create a turnover.

On this one play Ford shows you the ability to dissect a situation twice, reacting quickly without thinking to make a play. He is aware of what is going on all around him, makes the correct read, then has the speed to make the play and punish the QB. Blasting the QB into his own sideline will also give him pause about trying to scramble again.

In this next clip Ford is 10 yards off the ball in off-man coverage. He is so far off the ball because he has dual responsibilities on the play. He has man to man coverage on the slot receiver but also is still a safety. If the ball is thrown to the right he still has some chase responsibilities if a player should break a tackle or slip free. If you freeze the screen before the snap you will see all 11 defenders in the picture, with Ford being the deepest player of the 11. This is not an accident. With Ford’s speed and quick reactions he can chase down a play to prevent a TD on the other side.

Again Ford is reading the eyes of the QB while watching his receiver run his route. When the QB looks left and the receiver runs an out cut, Ford knows this is a 5 yard out. Ford waits as long as he can to prevent the receiver from running an out and up, but when the ball is being thrown Ford reacts quickly to intercept the pass. The pass itself is awful, as it is thrown far too inside. In fact, it is even behind Ford, who has to reach back to make the pick.

Ford played very sparingly in 4 games as a freshman, then opted out due to Covid concerns after 7 games this year. He played only 19 games the last two seasons but still had 6 INTs, 10 passes defended and forced 3 fumbles while making 136 tackles. That is a great stat line for a player who played primarily as a deep safety.

Here is another impressive read by Ford, again in man coverage on the right side of the field. On this play Pitt has two deep safeties in man coverage, with Ford’s partner covering the running back out of the backfield. When there is a cursory play fake with the RB stepping up to block, Ford’s partner has no coverage responsibilities left, so he is free to roam.

Ford has seen this type of play before so he is watching for hints to tell him what the play is. He is 12 yards off his man at the snap so he has to decide quickly what is going on. The play has two stacked receivers to the left side of the formation. That is done for a reason, there are a variety of routes that can be run from this formation. Ford’s man is in the slot, stacked behind the outside receiver.

If the outside receiver makes a hard left at the snap with an outside release then Ford knows his man is going to cross his face on a slant route. Ford will need to come hard down into the middle of the field to try to hammer the receiver and jar the ball loose. If the outside receiver cuts inside, Ford’s man will move outside down the sideline on a “9” route, or make a hard cut inside to run a 15 yard dig route or skinny post.

When Ford sees the outside receiver go slowly towards his coverage man while his man does not make a quick cut either way but instead backs up, Ford knows this is probably a quick slip screen. Watch as Ford moves up quickly when both receivers don’t come off the ball hard. When the outside receiver starts to block his man, Ford moves down rapidly to not only stop the play for a loss but also make a bruising tackle. On this play, Ford starts off 12 yards off his receiver, yet he makes a tackle for a 2 yard loss.

Against Duke Ford had 2 interceptions on the day. The first was a pick six on a tipped ball that Ford took back to the house. Here is the second. Ford is in two deep zone coverage to the weak side of the offense. Ford has no direct responsibilities other than to read the action, then make a play.

It’s like he has 3 eyes that are all like a chameleon, which can move each eye independently of each other. Ford is watching the slot receiver to his right as he crosses the field, but also the QB’s eyes, as well as the tight end who is running a shallow cross. Following the QB’s eyes Ford is about to drop down to rock the tight end but stops as he sees the QB move his eyes across the middle. He then reverses course, sees the pass, then steps into the passing lane for the INT. This was a poorly thrown pass, as I think the QB was expecting the receiver to sit, but the pass was going to be intercepted either way.

Later in the game Pitt is nursing a 2 point lead with less than 3 minutes to go, with Ford playing the left side in a two deep zone coverage scheme. Ford has to read everything that is going on in front of him to decide where he needs to go. Ford has only a receiver plus a tight end to his side, but he also must watch to see if the RB who is on the opposite side of the formation should cross over to the flat on Ford’s side. This is a lot of information to absorb in a split second, plus he still has deep responsibilities should one of the receivers on the left side of the formation cross the field deep.

Pitt also has 7 men at or near the line of scrimmage in a potential blitz situation. Some will probably drop off, but the offense has no idea if this will happen or which player will drop off. Fortunately for Ford the linebacker, who is lined up in the left B gap, drops back into coverage, which takes away the QB’s hot read, the tight end on the quick slant.

The QB knows he needs to get rid of the ball quickly as he cannot afford to take a sack in this situation. The left side corner is in a bail technique, which leaves a good throwing lane to the receiver. Ford sees this, so when the QB rocks back to throw to his right he knows exactly where the ball is going.

The QB felt he didn’t have any time to scan the field, yet he had the left side slot receiver open on a quick 5 yard dig route. Instead he led his outside receiver right into a buzzsaw named Ford, who plants a shoulder pad into the chest of the receiver. The receiver gets flattened but remarkably holds onto the ball. It also prevents a first down on a 3rd and 10 play keeping the clock moving while making Pitt one play away from victory.

On this next play Ford is playing a variation of a single high safety look, although he has man coverage on the RB. Virginia Tech has a bunch formation to the left, then the RB is put in motion to that side. This play is set up so that the RB catches the ball in motion. Behind three blockers he can pick his way around the corner into the open field.

The fact that Virginia Tech put the RB in motion actually helps Ford on the play. Ford is 15 yards from the RB before the snap, but the motion gets him moving towards the play before it begins. As the play unfolds Ford has every aspect of the play right in front of him, he can see the blockers, then the ball in the air towards his man.

These are the attributes I was talking about earlier: the ability to read a play, react without hesitation, then use exceptional speed to make a play. Also for a player his size Ford is unafraid to throw his body around to make a statement play. He has the knowledge to understand the design but he still waits until the ball is thrown to kick in full speed towards the ball. If Ford reacts too quickly his next opponent will script a play that has the same look but then sneak the tight end out to the right after feigning a block. Ford reacts quickly but he waits until he is sure of the play. He doesn’t relinquish his deep field responsibilities until he is sure of the play, yet he still made the play for a one yard loss.

This next play shows a few of the elements of Ford’s understanding of the play, his responsibilities, and game conditions. This is the same game but it has gotten colder and it has started to rain. You can’t make a play if you slip and fall on your butt, so a player needs to take less sharp cuts so he doesn’t slip. Virginia Tech has moved into a power running formation so Pitt is using a 4-4-3 alignment to compensate, though they are one player short on the play. Ford is playing as a single high safety with deep responsibilities, so he can’t be as aggressive to the run as he would like.

At the snap Ford is reading run all the way but he has to be sure, because the wideout to his left is crossing the CB’s face into the middle of the field. If Ford is overly aggressive to the run the QB might stop, then hit the receiver running open down the field. Ford heads that way but doesn’t really accelerate until the QB crosses the line of scrimmage. Watch as he “bellies out” so he doesn’t make sharp cuts on the wet field. He is also squaring up his shoulders so he can make a sure tackle. He does so by planting his shoulder pad into the sternum of the QB which rocks him back landing on his keister. Watch also how Ford gets lower before delivering his hit so the motion is going upwards, which increases the leverage and power at impact.

This next play is another very impressive display of vison, speed and desire. When the play starts Ford is to the left of the defense. He has back of the end line responsibilities in the end zone. It’s 2nd and goal at the two, so a defender has to act quickly or the play may be over before he realizes it. When the tight end goes in motion you can see Ford adjusting the defense to get his men in the best coverage situation. He is the deepest defender on the defense at the snap.

No one on the offense is designed to block Ford because he is too far away to make a play. Ford doesn’t see it that way. He keeps himself out of the mosh pit of players to find a lane to chase the ball carrier. Using his great speed to catch up you can just see the ridiculous determination to make a play. He is pursuing like his life depends upon it as he lines up his target. He then dives at full speed to make a beautiful wrap up shoestring tackle for no gain. That was impressive.

Here against North Carolina he is again playing as the deepest man on the defense, with responsibilities for the tight end to his side. At the snap the tight end blocks down but Ford makes sure. He doesn’t want to over-commit, then have the tight end sneak out into the flat for an easy TD pass by the QB. Ford waits until he is sure the ball is handed off and not kept by the QB on the read option play.

The running back is a mighty mite, a shorter stockier ball carrier who is like tackling a fire hydrant once he gets a head of steam up. Once the handoff is made Ford waits for the RB to commit to a hole, then stops him cold with a shoulder to the chest. Ford grabs hold and wrestles him to the ground. Remember Ford is not a huge player (6’ 190) so he maximizes his size by using good leverage (getting low at the tackle point) along with fierce determination. Watch as others come over to help, but Ford wants to be the one who throws the RB down to the ground. Pure determination.

Ford has excellent ball skills as he was a receiver on his high school team. He was part of a state championship team that was the only school in state history to mercy rule every opponent they played. Ford was offered scholarships from Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and numerous other top programs. He choose Pitt because he is from Pittsburgh, he won his championship there. Pitt was the first school to show an interest in him so he felt they deserved his services. Most top recruits want to go away to a storied program but Ford felt a sense of community so he stayed home.

On this last play Ford is playing a two deep safety look which is rare when the offense is inside the 20 yard line. Ford can see the play in front of him all the way. As the tight end releases into the route over the middle he is covered by the slot corner.

This is just basic zone coverage. As the corner gets tangled up with the tight end Ford can see the ball the whole way. The ball is thrown behind the tight end which makes the pick easy. This gives us an opportunity to see the return skills of Ford. He is a very fluid player.

Paris Ford is an exciting player with many of the skills and intangibles you like to see in a prospect. He is a team leader and would probably take over lead dog status in the Jets secondary once he starts (assuming Marcus Maye eventually departs). Ford is an instinctive player with speed, unbridled desire, unwavering competitiveness, athleticism and a can do attitude. He seems like a Robert Saleh type of player.

Like all college prospects Ford will need development at the NFL level. He needs to learn better how to break down into proper tackling technique in the open field. He is too often looking for the big hit then getting himself out of good position only to miss the tackle. As of now he could not be trusted as a single high safety in the NFL. Of course, very very few safeties coming out of college would be trusted right away as a single high safety.

Ford is a highly energetic, emotional player who can let his emotions get the best of him sometimes. This comes from a deep desire to perform at a high level in addition to winning. He also at times will take a bad angle on a play. Ford needs better recognition of combo routes which can come with proper coaching.

Ford will also need to add about 15 lbs of muscle to endure the rigors of the NFL. Even then I don’t think he will have enough size to play as a box safety or cover the monstrous tight ends in the NFL. He also plays better coming towards the ball than he does going away from the ball in coverage.

Ford is not a perfect prospect but he has many tools that defensive coordinators covet, and he has a natural love and enthusiasm for the game. Right now I have him rated as a low 2nd round pick but that could change 10 picks either way with more work. I think he could be a nice pick up with the Jets #66 pick but I could say that about many of these prospects.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?