It can be very difficult for safeties to raise their stock in the NFL draft process. Despite the myriad things that NFL defenses ask of their safeties, teams don’t seem to place that much value on them in the draft itself. A few elite safeties are occasionally drafted highly, but even good safeties can find themselves falling down boards on draft day.
It doesn’t help matters when a safety doesn’t have as much tape as the league would prefer or tests out poorly. Unfortunately, that’s the case for Pittsburgh safety Paris Ford, who only played seven games in 2020 and had a disappointing performance at the Pittsburgh pro day.
What does that mean for Ford’s draft stock, and what kind of player is he at the NFL level?
Prospect: Paris Ford
Games Watched: vs. Syracuse (2020), vs. NC State (2020), vs. Miami (2020), vs. Notre Dame (2020)
Tackles For a loss: 5.5
Forced Fumbles: 3
Passes Defensed: 10
Tackles For a loss: 3.0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes Defensed: 1
Best: Mental processing, closing burst, foot quickness, physicality
Worst: Athleticism, range, angles to the ball
Projection: A nickel safety in a zone scheme and core special teams player.
Pittsburgh safety Paris Ford is a smart and physical safety who could play a variety of roles at the NFL level.
Ford has enough range and foot quickness to execute as a zone safety at the NFL level. He has enough range and awareness to align as a deep safety in a Cover 2, 3 or 4 shell, as well as enough size and physicality to play as a box safety in a Cover 3 defense.
Ford shows a good understanding of the game from the safety position and is an active communicator from either alignment in the secondary in the pre-snap phase. He wastes little time deciphering offensive plays with an accurate first step and good tracking of the ball despite misdirection. Ford processes what he sees very quickly, triggering on the play and closing hard on the ball carrier.
He has quick feet in coverage, allowing him to transition well from a backpedal to a sprint, or to come downhill from a coverage zone to defend a short pass or running play. Ford also shows good awareness in coverage, as well as an understanding of route concepts. He closes hard on the ball when in zone coverage and uses his length well to shut passing windows, play receivers’ hands, and make plays on the ball. He has solid ball skills to break up passes or come away with interceptions.
Ford is explosive playing downhill in run support, showing an impressive closing burst and a willingness to hit ball carriers. He is a fearless run defender who has no hesitancy in filling gaps or attacking ball carriers. Ford also shows that same explosiveness as a blitzer, with a good sense of timing and willingness to lay hits on quarterbacks.
Ford relied on his impressive mental footwork to process information very quickly, allowing him to play much faster than he timed. He had a disappointing pro day, but his instincts and processing allowed him to overcome his pedestrian athleticism on the field.
Ford needs to improve his tackling form, too often relying on shoulder checks to try and knock offensive players over. He rarely breaks down, squares, wraps up, and drives through ball carriers, which can lead to yards after contact. Ford is also inconsistent in the angles he takes to the ball, at times misjudging offensive players’ speed (or overestimating his own) and taking himself out of position to tackle effectively.
Ford can also show some inconsistent play demeanor. He is dogged and shows high effort in pursuit when he believes a play is there to be made, but other times he can be seen standing around when it seems the play is going away from him.
Overall Grade: 5.8 - This player should be a good depth and sub package piece in the NFL, as well as a core special teams player.
Paris Ford safety projects as a nickel safety and special teams player at the NFL level. While Ford certainly has the mental processing and competitive toughness to be a starting safety at the NFL level, he is a limited athlete. He could potentially work his way into a starting role — or be a significant contributor — in a zone blitz heavy defense which relies on Cover 4 principles.
He is at his best with the game in front of him, playing with an aggressive explosiveness and a desire to hit offensive players and impact the game. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the long speed to be a “sideline to sideline” player, or to turn and run with receivers or running backs.
Ford is an active communicator before the snap and shows great mental processing after the snap, both of which allows him to play faster than he timed. His ability to decipher information quickly, without being fooled by misdirection, helped to cover up his athletic issues at the collegiate level. That same football IQ could help him carve out a place on an NFL defense.
While Ford is an aggressive player who plays hard throughout the game, he does allow his motor to wind down when it appears the play is going elsewhere. Interviews could be important to find out why or whether a different coaching style could improve this.
Ford’s biggest area of improvement will be in his tackling form and pursuit angles. Ford plays like a 220-pound safety, but his 190-pound stature shows up when he attempts to shoulder-check larger offensive players. Improving both Ford’s tackling form and angles to the ball should work together to make him a more reliable and disruptive player.