Matt Waldman shares his pre-draft evaluation of Miami Dolphins WR Isaiah Ford, who is making a good impression in camp for the second consecutive year.
5. Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech (6-1, 194)
Ford’s draft stock was on the rise until it hit a speed bump at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.62- second 40-yard dash. Although he followed up the time with 4.52-second effort during his Pro Day, it wasn’t enough to eliminate doubts some have about his speed.
A strong dose of Ford’s film should help. While there’s a risk that he’s little more than an ordinary NFL receiver who can contribute, but not thrive in an NFL lineup, there’s enough to like about Ford’s game that transcends ordinary.
Ford is a quick receiver with the skill to change direction in tight spaces with a dip or accelerate past an opponent. Despite the recent workout times, Ford has the speed to threaten the defense vertically. He has experience facing tight coverage and acquits= himself well. When he uses his feet in conjunction with his hands, Ford can work past defenders with a three- or four-step move with a chop, rip, or shake.
He also knows how to chop at the top of his stem but he has to deliver his hand movements with more violence. When his footwork isn’t sharp, his hands aren’t as effective with the release. One of the things he must do better is to close the gap between himself and the defender before delivering his release move.
Ford is more advanced at the line of scrimmage than most receivers in this class, but he still loses to patient corners if the defender waits out his first move. Ford must develop a contingency plan so he can make a fluid transition to a second move when the first one fails.
The fact that this is even a criticism is a good indication of his skill level. Even so, Ford is better at releasing on routes with a horizontal element to the break on a short stem rather than a longer stem with a straight break.
Ford reads the zone coverage well enough to understand when to break off his route. He’s excellent running double moves. When he plays to his potential in terms of pacing, he can tell a story and fake out defenders playing man coverage. He’s particularly strong at running post-corners, corner-posts, post-outs, and other double moves. Ford has a terrific move on an out-and-up where he sells the hard break with the hip bend and the turn of the shoulders, hips, knees, and head before accelerating upfield.
Ford needs to cultivate that hip flexibility on routes with a single break. He knows how to vary pacing during his stem to set up breaks against offcoverage defenders. He must be careful not to overextend his plant foot that he uses to pivot off when executing hard breaks and he should break back to the ball longer and harder than he currently does.
These are a lot of details about Ford’s game that he must improve, but his route knowledge goes deeper into the rabbit hole of receiving technique than most. His current skills give him a fighting chance to earn a position on the ball in scenarios where most struggle.
Ford tracks the ball over his head well and at top speed. His boundary awareness, body control, and confidence are top-notch. He’s a good but not great leaper who times his aerial ascents perfectly, even against multiple defenders in tight coverage. His hand stretch is notable. Ford can pull the ball away from a defender with a better position on the ball while they’re both airborne.
He’s an excellent faderoute receiver who wins with or without a good position on the defender and he’ll take contact from a defender while doing so. Although the high-point targets are most of Ford’s showcase plays on film, he does good work on targets below the knees and requiring a dramatic adjustment.
Ford can take punishment to win the football, but he also has the awareness to drop to the ground to avoid unnecessary hits. He needs to get smarter about shielding defenders when he already has a winning position on a vertical route. He’ll open his chest to the target, giving a defender room to disrupt the catch. He’ll also leave his feet unnecessarily on targets that don’t require it. Ford transitions quickly from receiver to runner. He has the burst to get separation as a ball carrier and a feel for weaving through defenders. He has an effective stiff-arm in the open field against defensive backs. Despite his thin frame, Ford has enough strength to bounce off indirect contact from corners and safeties.
His ball security is sound, but he’s almost exclusively toting it under his left arm on any given play. Once wrapped, he won’t break many tackles but he will lean through contact for extra yardage. He could do a better job with his pad level to protect himself and earn more yards after contact.
Ford is a speed-bump blocker who can get his hands into a defender, but he has a lot of technique to master to become a better blocker. He doesn’t close the gap on his assignments, and his punch is lacking. Ford can move his feet to generate a push when he earns position, but it doesn’t happen a lot. He misjudges angles, over- or under-playing the man. His cut blocks are his best skill in the run game. Ford has good timing and he shoots through the opponent’s legs on a consistent basis. He’s also patient with his setup.
Ford is an average-sized receiver who plays big but has the potential to develop into a versatile, everydown performer who can win anywhere on the field. It’s why he’s a little ahead of the next man on this list who is a big receiver who could potentially wind up playing smaller than expected.
Pre-Draft Fantasy Advice: Ford easily could have been the No. 3 receiver on my board. He’s the most polished of Stewart, Ross and even Reynolds. I’d be comfortable with Ford as a second round pick, but his ADP could be low enough that you get him at the bargain of the third round.
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