Just how good is Jacoby Ford?
Ford was born in Florida and attended Clemson University, where he was a track and football star.
Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders have a reputation for drafting fast athletes who aren't necessarily the best football players. Sure enough, during the 2010 NFL Draft, Ford was drafted in Round 4 and immediately given that label and dismissed as a "project."
However, closer inspection of Ford reveals this to be a sensational pick, as he could well turn into a prime-time player.
First, we know he is quick, but just how quick? He's certainly fast over 20 yards. Over 40 yards, he was the fastest person at last year's NFL Scouting Combine (4.27).
But then the afterburners kick in: He was the 2009 NCAA champion at 60 meters in a time of 6.52, which is just marginally outside of the meet record.
He also has a personal best of 10.01 for the 100m—no, this is not a misprint: 10.01! That is elite speed.
Bob Hayes is often considered the fastest man to play in the NFL and with good reason: He broke the world record in 1964 with a time of 10.04 over 100 meters, so Jacoby's time of 10.01 puts him up with the fastest guys ever to suit up.
I'd be interested to know if any NFL player has ever run an officially-timed quicker 100m.
So, we know he's quick, but can he play?
In 2009, Jacoby Ford and CJ Spiller set a new NCAA record for all-purpose yards. No duo in the history of college football had ever been as prolific as these two speedsters from Clemson.
Whilst Spiller received lots of attention and was the ninth overall pick, Ford slipped under the radar.
His draft bio had this to say:
Ford is an explosive receiver that has a lot of skills but is a bit on the undersized side. There were concerns about his hands as he likes to body catch a lot of balls but he showed pluck ability in the Senior Bowl practices this winter. He definitely has long speed as he ran a 6.52 60-meter dash in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in March of 2009. He has a tendency to rely on his track speed at times, and will need to work on altering how fast he runs his routes. He probably fits the role of a slot receiver as a team’s No. 3 receiver.
Not many teams were willing to take the risk on Ford, particularly given his 4.7 grading. He was the 15th wide receiver chosen in the 2010 NFL Draft when the Oakland Raiders made him the the 10th pick of the fourth round (108th overall).
Has Oakland found a little gem?
Since he has been installed at kick returner, he has taken two to the house, with speed that makes the other members of both teams look like they have had the pause button applied to them.
He has got some serious wheels. The phrase "if he's even, he's leavin'" springs to mind. If the kick return team for the Raiders can create the running lanes, Ford will burn teams.
But how about the day job as a wideout? Well, he is 5'9", so he's not going to win too many jump balls—Randy Moss he is not.
His first six games saw zero catches and very little action. The following two games were blowout victories against Denver and Seattle. Jacoby was a bit-part player in these games, registering four catches for 37 yards.
In the past three games, however, Ford has truly announced himself on the NFL stage, with 12 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown.
It is not just his numbers though that are impressive—his catching skills have been a revelation. He has taken two balls away from DBs that looked sure-fire interceptions, first against Brandon Flowers in the KC game and then against Chris Clemons in the Miami game. These are career catches and Jacoby has come up with two in three weeks!
These catches should give the Raiders confidence to target Ford over the middle—give him the chance to make the play.
Who is Oakland's best wide receiver?
Not only has he shown the fight to come down with the ball in a crowd, he has also shown excellent ball-hawking skills. The 47-yard reception against KC showed that he is a playmaker when the Raiders needed him most. In OT, the score was tied at 20-20 and Campbell launched a speculative long ball. Jacoby Ford ran it down, made a great play and the Raiders managed to get Seabass in position to win the game.
None of this would have been possible without Ford.
It's time to install Jacoby Ford as our featured WR in Oakland. Darrius Heyward-Bey has yet to live up to the reputation, Louis Murphy is inconsistent and Chaz Schilens can not get on the field.
Ford can be a superstar: Great hands, great timing and elite speed.
The Raiders could be looking at the next Cliff Branch. Perhaps with some rearranging of the numbers, the old sign-boards proclaiming "Speed Kills #21" could become "Speed Kills #12"
The game plan against SD must be to get Ford in the game early on, possibly with some quick-hitters or slants. Make the DBs worry about where #12 is. Then establish the running game off-tackle, all the time looking for SD to play Ford in single coverage.
When it happens on first down, sell the play-action and watch Jacoby turn on the afterburners. Hit him in stride (or close enough) and he'll take it all the way to the house.
Jacoby Ford is the real deal—can Oakland get him the ball?