The warning is repeated every year: Don’t buy the offseason hype. But Dee Ford might be the dynamic exception to that mantra. The Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker and first-round rookie is performing at a high level in OTAs, which has Twitter and the rest of the Internet buzzing.
Ford started training camp, taking snaps with the second team behind Frank Zombo, as Pro Bowl OLB Justin Houston is holding out for a new contract. This wasn’t of any concern. Ford was expected to play his first year much like Aldon Smith did, as a rotational pass-rusher with limited responsibility versus the run and in pass coverage.
But then Ford played at a level deserving of first-team status. Kansas City promoted him.
Could this be another inflated rookie success story in the offseason? Or is he already just as dangerous as Houston and Tamba Hali?
There isn’t enough evidence to answer either question yet, but by being thrown into the fire so quickly, we could have an answer about Ford’s first-year chops sooner rather than later. The Chiefs seem to feel content in giving him all the reps he can handle.
According to ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher, the Chiefs’ decision likely stems from both Houston’s absence and their development plan for Ford.
“The move could be a sign the Chiefs aren't expecting to see Houston any time soon. It could mean the Chiefs just believe it's time to give Ford more to see how he handled things.”
Whatever the case may be, the extra reps are only helping Ford’s transition into the NFL. And with the rave reviews that he is drawing, like in the above Bleacher Report video, nine or more sacks and a shot at Defensive Rookie of the Year don’t seem that far-fetched.
For a rookie to have that kind of success immediately, he must have excellent physical talent. Ford can check off that box. As Sean Keeler of Fox Sports Midwest tweeted, his speed is indeed real. Look at his ridiculous burst off the snap in the Senior Bowl:
But what are working best in Ford’s favor are the potential declines of fellow pass-rushers Houston and Tamba Hali.
Houston is holding out for a contract worthy of his level of production. If his absence continues, he might not be in football shape by the time the regular season rolls around, amplifying the chance of injury and minimizing effectiveness. That happened to Darrelle Revis during one of his many holdouts. Ditto for Maurice Jones-Drew last year.
An injury to Houston would let Ford take over the starting position and fully display his potential.
He could also take playing time away from Hali, who showed up 20 pounds overweight in May.
Hali is not known as a workout slouch, so his weight should drop quickly. However, his future in Kansas City remains a question. The Chiefs could save $9 million by cutting him in 2015, according to Rotoworld. Contract extensions for Houston, Eric Berry and possibly Alex Smith are on the horizon, so that might be the team's best option going forward.
Ford would obviously take Hali’s place. If that turns out to be the plan, then expect Ford to see an uptick in snaps by the end of the season. That way the Chiefs will have a better idea of what type of player he is in pads instead of just shorts.
As long as all three stay healthy, Ford obviously won’t be given the brunt of the snaps. However, he will definitely spell Houston and Hali throughout games. Ford on fresh, fast legs versus a lineman who is already worn out by a Pro Bowl pass-rusher should generate easy sacks.
His emergence this offseason gives Kansas City extra flexibility in determining the future of the linebacking corps. The Chiefs can comfortably play the waiting game with Houston and attempt to restructure the 30-year-old Hali’s contract in 2015 or cut him if that offer is rejected.
With how much hype Ford is getting through Twitter and the rest of the social media sphere, even an average rookie season would be a disappointment. Luckily, the first-team reps he is getting in training camp, along with question marks for Houston and Hali, suggest Ford will have an immediate impact in Kansas City. It might also be foreshadowing the end of the NFL’s deadliest pass-rushing duo.