‘Bust’ or a Canton ‘Bust’ for Dee Ford?
DECEMBER 2016 – Dee Ford has turned things around.
The term “bust” has a wide range of meanings and implications in the National Football League. How wide? Oh, from “worst ever” to “best ever.”
When an NFL Draft pick—especially a first-round pick—doesn’t live up to expectations, he is called a “bust.” But when he far exceeds expectations, the talk leans toward whether he will have a “bust” in Canton, Ohio, the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dee Ford was definitely in the former category heading into the 2016 season
He was taken in the first round—23rd overall—in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he was being mentioned as one of the worst first-round selections in the team’s history.
Halfway through his third professional season, he’s being mentioned in the Pro Bowl discussion. While that’s a far cry from enshrinement in Canton, it’s also a far cry from the perception of Ford just a few months ago.
Ford was drafted because the Chiefs knew Tamba Hali was getting long in the tooth and they wanted a replacement ready for when he finally hung up the cleats. After two years, Ford looked like anything but a replacement for Hali.
Through his first two seasons, Ford started just five games, and those came after Justin Houston injured his knee midway through last season. He hardly saw the field his first season, playing just 122 snaps. He had 1.5 sacks and seven tackles as a rookie. Through two seasons, he had a total of 31 tackles in 30 games. A pass-rushing specialist, he had just 5.5 sacks.
All he’s done this year is record 32 tackles in 10 games, including 10 sacks, which is tied for the best in the NFL entering December. Ford suffered a hamstring injury in the Nov. 20 loss to Tampa Bay, but it was considered serious.
No one at 1 Arrowhead Drive wants to say Dee Ford has experienced a dramatic change, including Ford. If the message is that his improvement has been gradual, it would be harder to call the pick a mistake. That’s easier on the front office, and it’s easier on Ford.
“My expectations are higher than what anybody else can have for me,” Ford said about living up to others’ expectations. “I know what I expect from myself. (Heading into this season) I was average, and I showed flashes of greatness. I was inconsistent.”
Inconsistent implies he was good some days and not as much on other days. But other than a three-sack game with a key, last-minute pass breakup against San Diego in the home finale last season, one would be hard-pressed to find a game where Ford was great.
Ford says it’s just a matter of getting snaps. “Just like it would help any other human,” he said when asked if getting more snaps has improved his play. “Experience is your best teacher.”
Coach Andy Reid agrees.
“He’s gotten to play an extended number of plays in back-to-back games,” Reid said. “I think he’s very comfortable in the defense now. We play a pretty complicated defense, but he’s got a pretty good grasp of it.
“I think he’s gotten stronger since we’ve gotten him. He’s spent a ton of time in that weight room. He’s gotten himself into shape where he can do this back-to-back thing. I remember early in his career he would get nicked up here and there. But he works his tail off.”
Reid said others have benefited from the absence of Houston through the first eight games.
“(Frank) Zombo’s gotten some good snaps too,” Reid said. “Dadi (Nicolas), a young guy coming through, has gotten some snaps. So it’s a positive thing.”
An injury to your best defensive player can hardly be ruled a positive thing, but there’s no denying that the extra reps in practice and games has helped Ford. It certainly hasn’t hurt his confidence.
“To be completely honest, I’ve always shown that I can play well, or else they never would have put me on the field,” he said prior to the Chiefs game at Carolina. “They didn’t really have to put me on the field because they had Justin (Houston) and Tamba (Hali).
“It’s (about) opportunities, man. A lot of sacks come late in games. Sometimes you get sacks early on. You never know when it’s going to happen. You’re talking about 60 rushes per game. If you get there twice, that’s a great day for you.”
Reid support has helped too.
“That’s a part of him being the great head coach that he is,” Ford said. “Me showing him what I can do early on and him holding me accountable to what he knows I can do.”
One area where Dee Ford has had an impact is on younger teammates.
Nicolas, a rookie, says Ford has been key to his development.
“I think Dee Ford is a great player and a great person,” Nicolas said. “He has a lot of love for the game. He’s passionate and he enjoys playing the game. We both have that in common. We both try to be great. It’s fun and exciting to see him go out there and do good things for the team.
“I think he deserves everything he’s getting. He’s put in the work. I expect him to continue to work and achieve. I’m not surprised at all. That’s the thing about the linebacker room. We all have different flavors when it comes to the game, and different things to offer each other. We definitely work as brothers.”
So the future finally has arrived for the former first-round pick. It’s got to feel good that he’s getting recognition for great play and not just for potential.
“It feels great, but we’re trying to get that ring, man,” he said. “It’s great. I’m humbled by it. It makes me want to work harder. It’s the way every player wants to be (viewed). This is motivation to keep going, but we’re thinking about that ultimate goal.”
The ultimate goal for Dee Ford is shedding the “bust” label for good.
“I just want to keep it simple,” he said. “Just greatness, man, consistent great play. That’s not easy.”
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Article by David Smale.