The biggest move of the San Francisco 49ers’ offseason was trading for former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford. General manager John Lynch sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Chiefs in exchange for the standout pass rusher. To facilitate the trade, the 49ers signed Ford to a five-year, $85 million contract. How does San Francisco plan to use their new asset on defense?
NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger, as only he can, took to Twitter to explain Ford’s skillset and his impact on the 49ers’ defense. In short: Get after the quarterback.
The 49ers view Ford as their LEO, a position along the defensive front that rushes the passer from the edge of the offensive line. Baldy compares Ford to former Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin, who filled the same role in Seattle. Coordinator Robert Saleh spent three seasons with the Seahawks from 2011-13, and sees Ford as the 49ers’ version of Irvin. Ford is listed at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, just one inch shorter and two pounds heaver than Irvin.
“He fits the LEO mold perfectly,” Lynch said at the team’s introductory press conference. “That’s what we see him as. I guess it matters in that we’ve got to put him in the program as something, but I know he’s a difference-maker. We’ve been looking for a closer, someone who can close halves, close games, get off the field on third down.”
Ford played outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defensive scheme in 2018 and put together one of the NFL’s best seasons as a pass rusher. Ford totaled 55 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 29(!) quarterback hits and 13 sacks. He had the No. 1 pass-rush grade (91.0) and the most total quarterback pressures among edge defenders (78), per Pro Football Focus.
During base downs, where the 49ers utilize their standard 4-3 scheme, Ford will fill the LEO role. In sub-packages, usually reserved for passing downs, Ford’s role will resemble that of the outside linebacker he played in Kansas City, standing up and rushing the passer. Either way, Ford’s role on the 49ers’ defense will revolve around getting to the quarterback on every down.
“My role is to go that way,” Ford said, simulating toward the quarterback. “Nothing else.”
The second half of Baldy’s breakdown focuses on Ford’s ability to generate turnovers. The 49ers’ defense only generated seven turnovers last season, the fewest in NFL history. Ford matched that number on his own, forcing seven fumbles for a Chiefs defense that created 27 turnovers in 2018.
Another benefit to adding Ford not mentioned in Baldy’s video is his ability to draw focus away from the interior of the defensive front. DeForest Buckner, the 49ers’ best pass rusher in 2018, generated 17 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback hits and 12 sacks while rushing from the interior. He now will face less attention from the offensive gameplan now that coordinators will need to account for Ford.
We’ll leave you with every Dee Ford sack in 2018: