While the Raiders look to rebound from a disappointing campaign on all levels, Ford's healthy return will be one of the biggest and most underrated keys to their success. They certainly need help in all phases of the game, and Ford can have a huge impact in several.
Starting with the offense, assuming the current receiving corps stays as is, we can expect Jacoby Ford to be utilized as the slot receiver in most sets.
With the NFL’s constant evolution into more of a pass-dominant league, the slot receiver has become one of the most important positions on the field. While there are certainly different types of slot receivers, the smaller and quicker ones, like Ford, can cause matchup nightmares in the middle of a defense.
Expecting a nickel corner, safety or linebacker to match Ford’s speed and quickness in his cuts is an extremely tall task. Not only can that result in significant production for Ford himself, but it can open up the field for the rest of the offense as well.
Now, that underneath capability represents just one part of Ford’s game as a pass catcher, but he can’t be pigeonholed to just that. While we may have seen a limited sample size thus far in his career, he has also shown flashes as a vertical threat, utilizing his track star speed to get behind defenders downfield.
When he does so, he has proven that his 5’9” frame is not an obstacle in his ability to go up and fight for the football. Several times, he has come down with spectacular catches.
All Raiders fans will certainly remember his dominant game against Kansas City in 2010, when he stole a pass from Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers on the game-tying drive and got behind him on post pattern to set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.
With all of this said, the absence of a dynamic slot receiver can change the entire shape of the offense. The Raiders experienced just that over the course of 2012 and parts of 2011 without Ford in the lineup.
Two of the most telling similar examples from around the NFL include the struggling Minnesota Vikings’ passing game in 2012 when they lost Percy Harvin and the New England Patriots’ early playoff exit in 2009 after losing Wes Welker the game before.
This is not to compare Jacoby Ford’s NFL experience and/or production to these two players, but his skill set and position have the potential to give him a relatively similar impact on the way opposing teams defend the Raiders offense.
In addition, Ford brings an element to his game that many other slot receivers do not: contributing with explosive plays in the running game.
Because Ford missed the entirety of the 2012 season, we will never know just how creative Greg Knapp planned to get with him in his offensive system.
What we do know is that former Raiders offensive coordinator and head coach Hue Jackson made a point of getting the ball into Jacoby Ford’s hands any way he could, and that quite often came in the form of reverses and end-arounds.
Under Jackson’s offense in 2010, Ford carried the ball 10 times for 155 yards, seven first downs and two touchdowns. His longest run came on the Raiders’ first play of the Week 15 game against the Broncos, where he took an end-around 71 yards for the score (video below).
Judging by Ford’s ability as a ball carrier and Hue Jackson’s success in creating plays for him, new Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson would be wise to take a page from that creativity and have Ford heavily involved in the ground game as well.
The added threat he brings with explosive plays on the ground, and his ability to keep defenses honest as a result, makes Jacoby Ford that much more valuable to the Raiders offense overall.
While much of a receiver’s evaluation will focus on how well he can contribute to the offense’s success, it cannot be understated just how much of an impact Ford makes on special teams as well.
In 2012, the Raiders managed an average of just 22.3 yards per return on kickoffs and a league-worst 5.1 yards per return on punts. Heading into the season, Jacoby Ford was set to be the primary return man on both units before his injury.
Throughout the season, the offense was having its fair share of problems, and due to a lack of productive plays in the return game, they weren’t exactly getting much help.
In 64 career kickoff returns, Jacoby Ford has averaged 25.3 yards per attempt, including four touchdowns. While he has yet to return a punt in the NFL, if his experience and success doing so in college are any indication, he should easily provide a boost to that unit upon return as well.
One of the most interesting things to watch in this coming season will be how well he and the return team as a whole can play under new special teams coordinator Bobby April. April is a well-respected coordinator who has a lengthy resume of coaching successful special teams units across the NFL.
Overall, considering his contributions in the passing game, the running game and the return game, Jacoby Ford can easily be considered the Raiders’ most dynamic and versatile player.
Yes, he has had some injury problems over the past few seasons, but, if nothing else, that has shown just how valuable he is to the success of this team on many different levels. Still a young player, only 25 years old, he should continue to evolve as he gains more experience in the NFL, and that is a huge plus for the Raiders moving forward.
Jacoby Ford will be a very important key to success for the Raiders both in 2013 and well into the future.