When Auburn Tigers defensive end Dee Ford finally got to go through drills and work out for NFL scouts at his pro day in Auburn on Tuesday, his numbers were eye-popping. His speed and strength give confidence that Ford should be a first-round pick in the NFL draft in May, possibly even a perfect match for the New Orleans Saints.
Not only did Ford run a 4.53 40-yard dash, he pushed up 225 pounds on the bench press 29 times, posted a 35.5” vertical jump and recorded a 124” broad jump, as reported by Auburn University. Ford also posted an impressive, unofficial three-cone drill time.
Ford wasn’t allowed to work out at the NFL combine as a medical precaution, but if you match up numbers from his pro day he shined.
His 40-yard dash time would have placed him in a tie for first among defensive linemen and third among linebackers. He would have been in the top 10 for both positions with his bench press, vertical and broad jumps and in the three-cone drill.
|How Dee Ford's Pro-Day Numbers Stack Up|
|Drill||Ford's Result||vs. Combine DL||vs. Combine LBs|
|40-yard Dash||4.53||1st (tie)||3rd|
|Bench Press||29||9th (tie)||3rd|
|Vertical Jump||35.5"||7th (tie)||10th (tie)|
|Broad Jump||124"||2nd (tie)||4th|
While his results from these drills were impressive, questions still remain—particularly about his size and where Ford will fit in on defense at the NFL level.
Ford was first team All-SEC in 2013 after posting 29 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. His ability to get behind the line of scrimmage and wreak havoc is unquestioned. But his smaller frame caused issues against the run. And since he spent most of his time attacking the quarterback, Ford doesn’t move backward well at all.
When Ford weighed in Tuesday he was 244 pounds, eight pounds lighter than he was at the combine. With that weight and his 6’2” frame, Ford is likely better suited to play linebacker in the NFL instead of defensive end. He already had problems against the run in college; NFL linemen are bigger, stronger and faster.
But if Ford is going to play linebacker in the NFL, he’s going to have to improve on his coverage skills. He didn’t look comfortable at all in the few passing drills he did on Tuesday. Ford wasn’t a fluid mover in reverse and had trouble getting his hands up and on the football when it was in the air.
“Dropping in space is something that was foreign to me,” said Ford after his workout. “But I was able to really get some things done. Now I have things to look forward to; to work on between now and the draft.”
Until he’s able to show the NFL he’s ready to cover a receiver or tight end, Ford’s best use at the pro level will likely be as rush linebacker. Who better to take advantage of that unique skill set than Rob Ryan, defensive coordinator of the Saints?
Under Ryan’s tutelage in 2013, the Saints improved dramatically on defense. One of the areas of bright improvement was the pass rush, in particular the growth of defensive end Cam Jordan and linebacker Junior Galette.
Jordan brought his sack total up from eight to 12.5 last season and was one of the best 3-4 pass-rushers in the league. Galette exploded in 2013 as he registered 12 sacks after five the year prior.
After Jordan and Galette, the Saints got pass-rush help from a number of sources, but no one else in particular jumped out as a specialist. Defensive end Akiem Hicks was third in sacks for New Orleans with 4.5.
Ryan loves to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and one of his key philosophies is to hide where the blitz is coming from with a lot of pre-snap movement and to attack with different personnel. For the Saints to continue growing on defense, the pass rush needs to improve. One of the quicker ways to get there is to add another top-notch pass-rusher in the draft.
Ford fits that bill.
As long as he’s only moving forward and not asked to do much in coverage, Ford could immediately shine in Ryan’s system, maybe even to the tune approaching double-digit sacks.
But will Ford be around when the Saints pick at No. 27 in the draft?
Ford was the Senior Bowl MVP after recording two sacks, and now he has some phenomenal pro-day numbers to enhance his draft stock. Before Tuesday it wasn’t an outlandish idea to see a mock draft with Ford landing in New Orleans. Now that he’s opened the eyes of NFL scouts, it may be a pipe dream for Ford to last until New Orleans’ pick.
There are 65 days until the first round of the NFL draft on May 8. It’s now a waiting game for New Orleans and Ford.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand at Auburn’s Pro Day in Auburn, Ala. on March 4, 2014.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.