Dee Ford is a perfect example of how the NFL pass rusher has changing. Not long ago defensive ends and outside linebackers were balance defenders that could set the edge against the run while creating pressure against the pass with a combination of speed and power. But as the NFL has evolved into a pass heavy league, passer rushers have gotten smaller and quicker relying on speed and agility instead of power.
That is exactly where Dee Ford fits. As an undersized defensive end, Ford's game is built around one thing, speed. Specifically, his incredible burst off the line of scrimmage. With this natural ability Ford has shot up draft boards-- turning the Senior Bowl into his personal highlight reel didn't hurt either-- and is now considered a fringe 1st round pick despite his limitations due to his smaller frame.
Burst: Incredible get off, seems like he knows the snap count, explosive first step, gains outside leverage consistently, good hand use/shoulder dip once he has leverage but was called for multiple offsides penalties.
Intangibles: Does all of the little things well, good awareness to get in passing lane and bat down throws, keeps contain on bootlegs, reverses, etc., non stop motor while chasing the quarterback and shows the desire to fight against bigger tackles.
*bat not pat down passes
Nasty: Has the nasty attitude one wants in a DE/OLB, delivered multiple monster hits on opposing quarterbacks at Auburn, seems to play with a chip on his shoulder and has the toughness to bang with much larger offensive linemen.
Versatile: Has some experience as a DE and OLB, showed the ability to play standing up, some exposure in dropping into coverage but not a lot, has enough balance awareness and should be able to convert into an rush OLB at the NFL level.
One Dimensional: Too reliant on the speed rush, lacks a secondary or counter move, poor spin and swim moves, doesn't convert his speed into power consistently and lacks the lateral agility to beat blockers inside.
Size/Strength: Undersized at 250 pounds, struggled to effectively set the edge, got upfield too often against run plays, tight ends can often handle him in run situations and will probably start his NFL career as a situational pass rusher.
Overall: Ford's game is built around his get off and first step. If he can gain the outside leverage Ford is a unbelievable pass rusher that can single handedly take over a game as he showed at the Senior Bowl. But ff he doesn't, Ford's game becomes extremely limited. He simply doesn't have the power or pass rushing moves to get around a set tackle and his lack of size is evident in the run game.
With those limitations teams are likely worried about his ability to become an all around player instead of a situational pass rusher. They hope Ford can develop into an outside linebacker-- he had some exposure to playing in a 2 point stance at Auburn-- and use his speed and acceleration in a variety of ways.
Even without proof that he can do anything expect rush the passer, Ford will hear his name in the 1st 40 picks or so. That is because a NFL team can never have enough pass rushers and Ford is one of the few potential game changing pass rushers in this draft.
As for the 49ers drafting Ford im not sold on the idea. While i like Ford's game and ability to create pressure the 49ers have bigger needs at WR and CB. Additionally, the 49ers drafted his former teammate Corey Lemonier last season who showed some promise in Aldon Smith's absence and has a higher upside in my opinion due to his length.
Another option for the 49ers at the end of the 1st round would be Mizzuo's Kony Ealy a versatile player with the ability to move inside in nickle situations.
Or the 49ers could look to trade up into the teens in order to grab someone like UCLA's Anthony Barr. A raw OLB with an amazing ceiling--he converted from TE just 2 seasons ago-- Barr could be targeted as a long term replacement for Smith/Brooks.
Most likely the 49ers will wait until the 2nd or 3rd day to select a pass rusher as the team will look to fill more important needs. At that point in the draft look for players like Boise State's DeMarcus Smith (2nd round), Stanford's Trent Murphy (3rd-4th round), Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu (2nd round and Marcus Smith (2nd-3rd round) to be in consideration for the 49ers.
Prediction: Late 1st Round
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