Could have issues getting pushed around by NFL tight ends, receivers
Summary: Ford broke out for the Panthers in 2019 as a redshirt sophomore. He led Pittsburgh in tackles, with 97, while also showing impressive ball production by notching three interceptions and 11 passes broken up. Ford was impossible to ignore, and he was all over the field for the Panthers. In 2020, Ford continued to play well, totaling 41 tackles, three interceptions and three passes defended before ending his season early. He decided to sit out the final four games.
Ford was impossible to miss on Pittsburgh's tape. He was seemingly everywhere for the Panthers, playing with reckless abandon, physicality, and serious tenacity. Thanks to his skill set and omnipresence, Ford was a difference maker for the Pittsburgh defense.
The first thing that jumps about Ford is how he is always around the ball, which is primarily due to his instincts. Ford displays excellent anticipation and is very fast in terms of reading his keys. That combination lets him disrupt plays and fly around the field to get to the ball-carrier. Ford not only processes plays fast mentally; he also has a serious burst to close, possesing undeniable speed. He flies to the football and eats up ground in an instant. When Ford gets to the ball-carrier, he packs a violent punch and looks to punish them. Ford's instincts, speed and physicality make him a dangerous enforcer for his defense.
Ford is a superb run defender who comes downhill or flies to the perimeter to make tackles. Generally, he does a nice job of getting ball-carriers to the ground, and he shows the ability to take their legs out from underneath them. Ford also can be overly aggressive at times, leading to him trying for the knock-out blow rather than wrapping up the ball-carrier.
In pass coverage, Ford is excellent in zone. He covers a ton of ground and uses his instincts to disrupt passing lanes. Ford does a nice job of breaking up contested catches by going for the ball rather than taking out the receiver. He shows impressive ball skills for a physical safety and is a threat to create turnovers.
In 2020, Ford flashed some man coverage skills on tight ends and slot receivers. He does not have sufficient size, however, to cover tight ends all the time, as they could bump him off and box him out to make receptions over him. Still, he offers some man-coverage flexibility. Ford looks like he has the speed and athleticism to play some man on slot receivers, and that is a skill that might need to be developed more at the pro level to match up against pro receivers.
In the NFL, Ford could be an interchangeable safety who plays free or strong safety. He has the speed to cover ground on the back end and plays the ball well downfield. His combination of mentality, aggression and physicality, however, could make him a better fit fpr strong safety. He should also likely put on some weight to attempt to bolster his durability.
If Ford were thicker, he would be a candidate to go earlier in the 2021 NFL Draft, but character concerns are weighing him down even more than the size concerns, according to team contacts. Team sources rave about Ford's tape and like him as a player, but because of the character and size issues, they believe Ford's range is between as as high as the second round and as loas into the middle rounds of Day 3.
Player Comparison: Budda Baker. Ford reminds me of Baker coming out of Washington. Both had size concerns but were clearly natural football players with excellent instincts and versatility to defend both phases. Baker has turned into a good NFL starter after being a second-round pick, and I believe Ford could follow the same path.