Oakland Raider Receiver Jacoby Ford: Shades of Cliff Branch
The first thing Oakland Raider owner Al Davis said upon trading for quarterback Jason Campbell was, "He's the next Jim Plunkett." Campbell hasn't lived up to it so far but Plunkett wasn't even the Plunkett Raider Nation grew to love in his first year.
I will wait until next year to pass judgement on that one because Campbell did start to come on this season.
Davis has desprately sought another Cliff Branch since he retired in 1985 as well. Willie Gault, Sam Grady, James Jett, Alexander Wright, and Alvis Witthed were track guys that Davis brought in to try to fill the void.
Willie Gault looked as if he was going to work out after a 985-yard, season in 1990. But neither Jeff Hostetler nor Jay Schroeder were the guys that can get him the ball consistently.
Davis did manage to find an all time great in Tim Brown along the way. Brown was among the NFL's fastest men at one time but a couple knee injuries took a step away from him.
But he still turned out to be a Hall of Fame type of football player.
Randy Moss was a freak of a deep threat in Minnesota but "didn't wanna play" when in Oakland. Maybe it was the throws of the quarterbacks he played with in Oakland that got him out of the mood.
Darrius Heyward-Bey was then selected in the first round in 2008 by Davis. Heyward-Bey has improved but has yet to show consistent hands and route running.
Louis Murphy has the look of a big time deep threat and comes through in the clutch. Those are definitely traits of Branch but Murphy is more of a Willie Gault type with the long stride.
Davis then takes another shot and ends up with Jacoby Ford.
Ford actually has close similarities to Branch.
Turn the page to see how close.
Cliff Branch: Speed
First thing's first.
The thing you must have to look at in comparison to Cliff Branch is speed. Branch was a track champion at the University of Colorado and that's what originally caught the eye of Davis.
It has been reported the Branch has been timed at 4.1 seconds the the 40-yard dash. There was no official time to go by at a scouting combine during his time but he has definitely had football playing speed.
There wasn't a man during his time that could run with him.
Branch along with Deion Sanders have to be the fastest players of all time. (on the field)
Jacoby Ford: Speed
Jacoby Ford was a collegiate track champion himself.
He was also the fastest man in the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine with a time of 4.28 seconds. I don't quite think that time tells the whole story because he runs by guys in games like they are standing there.
His game speed has been visable in the two kick offs he's had and the deep ball's he's caught. He has had a big separation distance on his deep ball catches but has yet to be hit in stride.
Did you see the way he exploded down the sideline on the out route he caught?
The man just has another gear in ball games.
Run After The Catch: Cliff Branch
They didn't keep track of yards after the catch when he was playing but Branch got his share. Aside from getting deep on a corner, Branch had no problem using his speed to take a short pass to the house.
Branch was a record breaking return man himself in college and started out as a return man with the Raiders. He would then polish his hands and route running to put himself in position to use his return skills after the catch.
That is a very underrated part of his game.
Run After the Catch: Jacoby Ford
Jacoby Ford uses his speed and kick return prowess to be a run after the catch threat as well. The suddeness of this little guy makes him a hard target to shoot at with the ball in his hands.
He's also pretty strong for his size to break arm tackles.
But like Branch, if he turns the ball up field after the catch with some room, he's gone. He showed that on a 44 yard touchdown catch and run against the Dolphins in week 12.
Who could catch that guy?
Catching The Deep Ball
Branch used his mercurial speed to blow by defenders to get open for the deep ball. However, the play can only be finished by catching the deep ball.
Having good hands is one thing but judging and catching the deep ball is something different. Most deep balls are thrown in a less than perfect way so tracking and adjusting to it is required to make big plays.
The ball stays in the air longer so much can go through the receiver's mind during that time and the ball can change fight in the wind. so Most track guys the go into the NFL don't have and the kind of focus it takes and that is what kills their NFL careers.
It does you no good to have all that speed and a five yard hitch is all you can catch.
Jacoby Ford: Catching The Deep Ball
Ford has shown so far that he can track and catch the deep ball after burning a corner back too. On a deep ball that isn't thrown perfectly, he has enough control to slow down enough make a play on the ball.
Ford showed that on a beautiful play he made against the Chiefs that was underthrown. No one in the stadium at the time thought that he would be able to come down with that one.
That is another shade of Branch.
Cliff Branch: In The Clutch
Branch, like all other great Raiders, was a tremendous clutch player. Raider fans that were around back then will never forget his 66-yard catch to beat the Saints on "Friday Night Football."
That was a dramatic Raider moment as Branch caught the ball, made a Saint defender miss, and sped away for the game winning score. Branch was also clutch in the playoffs and in Super Bowls during his career in Silver and Black.
Three touchdowns in three Super Bowls are the Cherry on top of Branch's clutch career.
Jacoby Ford: In The Clutch
Jacoby Ford showed us that he has the clutch gene in the Raider's first game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He started with his the kick off return for a touchdown to get the Raider going after a shaky offensive first half.
The he took the ball away from a defender on a fourth and long to set up the game winning score against the Raider's rival.
If that wasn't enough, he made a diving, 47-yard catch to set up the game winning field goal in overtime. Put that together with the fact that it was in a big, rival game against the first place team in the division.
That's pretty clutch.
What will he do when he gets in a playoff game.
It's hard to make a case against Ford becoming the next Branch. Davis and head coach Hue Jackson are going to give him every chance in the world to be that.
Don't forget the fact that he emerged as a favorite target of Campbell during the season. His size, (or lack there of) speed, running after the catch, and ability to track and adjust to deep balls give him the skill set.
If Nnamdi Asomugha doesn't come back to the Raiders for 2011, (I think he will) Davis will probably turn his jersey of 12 to 21.