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Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Cody Ford Dilemma

Written by Greg Boucher

In 2019 the Oklahoma product was billed as a player with 1st Rd talent, the scouts and draft analysts raved about his long list of talents. They lauded him for his size and athleticism, his capacity to handle both power and speed, his ability to move up into the second level and cover up linebackers, or work in the trenches to uproot and drive out defenders. Above all they loved his NFL readiness, many who evaluated Ford considered him a complete lineman who had all the tools and high-level experience needed to step in early and play at a high level. That is why, when Ford was still sitting on the board 6 picks into the second round, Brandon Beane made the move to go up two slots and draft him. While many around the NFL celebrated the trade up, considering it a smart move to draft a highly rated lineman in the 2nd round the question around Buffalo was, where would Ford play? The debate surrounding him during the draft process was where he would fit best in the NFL, at tackle or at guard? While at Oklahoma he played well at both spots and could seemingly transition to either in the NFL but with Quinton Spain and Jon Feliciano rounding out the interior the need was most glaring at right tackle and so the Ford saga began.

In 2019 Ford appeared in all 16 regular season games at right tackle, starting 15 of them including the playoff loss to Houston, while he logged the majority of the team’s snaps at right tackle (68%) he did have an occasional rotation with swing tackle Ty Nsekhe. While McDermott made it apparent from the onset that Ford would be the starter, that the offense was willing to write off some of his mistakes as mere rookie growing pains, the grades show that in his limited role Nsekhe was the better performer finishing with a PFF grade of 67.3 while not allowing a sack over 358 snaps. On the other hand, Ford finished his first season as a professional ranked 78th out of 89 qualifying players earning him a lackluster 52.4 PFF grade, for a season in which he allowed 7 sacks accounting for 18.5% of the team’s total while also committing 10 penalties. While Ford had some difficult match ups, facing Demarcus Lawrence, Von Miller and both Watt brothers, according to Next Gen Stats he finished with an 85.2% Pass Block Success Rate (sustaining a block for 2.5 Seconds or more) which placed him near the bottom of the barrel, 145th out of 171 to be exact.

During an interview with Bills insider and ESPN contributor Marcel Louis Jacques, Ford had the following to say about his rookie performance: “I feel like as many plays as I took, there could have been way more good plays than bad plays. I feel like I left too much on the table. When they drafted me, my background was a certain type of DNA that they wanted and I feel like I left some of that in the tank.” While many first-year players struggle adjusting to the rigors of playing tackle in the NFL his subpar performance brought into question his future prospects protecting Josh Allen, whispers for a position change could be heard during the season and by its end the whispers had grown to full on grumblings especially after a rough showing in the Wild Card game.

While his rookie campaign left many soured with the 38th overall pick’s performance things seemed to grow gloomier, just days after the season finale it was announced that the rookie was undergoing right shoulder surgery. This news came after he had spent the entire second half of the season nursing a left elbow injury which he sustained in the Eagles game. To his credit Ford realized he would need to come out of this surgery and enter his rehab full steam ahead as he continued to explain to Marcel Jacques Louis. “My whole mindset, before and after the surgery, was that I’m gonna go ahead and just grind this summer. I had a decent year for a rookie, but there were things that personally didn’t go the way I wanted them to. I knew what I needed to focus on and, surgery or not, I accepted that this offseason was going to be a grind… When I came back, they were pretty impressed.”

Ford was not only able to return to form but in some regards, he was able to better himself, his frame seemed leaner, his flexibility was better and he overall he seemed healthier. Still there was the concern with, where Ford would play in 2020. That offseason GM Brandon Beane signed the former Carolina Panther starting tackle, Darryl Williams who played well before an injury laden season diminished his value on the market and veteran Ty Nsekhe who out preformed Ford the year prior was also still very much in the mix at tackle. There was also the depth at guard, where both starters Jon Feliciano and Quinton Spain were set to return after Spain signed a very team friendly deal to remain in Buffalo. As fate would have it, Feliciano suffered a pectoral injury in camp which would require him to be sidelined for 2-3 months forcing him to miss the first half of the season. With Williams playing well at tackle the decision to bump Ford inside seemed to be an obvious one, Ford started the season as the right guard. Unfortunately, the position change that many believed would better suit Ford’s talents, did not exactly produce a higher level of play from the 2nd year lineman. Though there were some noticeable improvements, he appeared more stable, seeming more comfortable on the interior, his overall technique issues continued to haunt him, he played high, he struggled to uproot defenders and was often a limited factor pulling and blocking out in space. After just only a few games the line-up was shuffled once again and Ford found himself flipping to the left side of the line, where many felt he was being placed so that LT Dion Dawkins could protect him. Unfortunately, the move offered little redemption as the mediocrity continued, Ford went on to earn a PFF grade of 53.8 which was microscopically better than the year prior which still ranked him in the lower echelon of NFL guards.

Bills wire

Perhaps getting in more reps was all Ford needed to develop at guard and tap into his true potential but that was never realized in 2020 as his season was derailed with injuries sitting out weeks 7 and 8 before returning in week 9 only to be sidelined for the entire season with a torn meniscus, he suffered in practice sending him under the knife for the second consecutive year. After a disgruntled Quinton Spain was released and Ford out for the season Ike Boettger was thrust into the vacant guard position, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Though Boettger was less than dominant, by all accounts he performed admirably in his first taste of NFL starting action, so much so PFF graded him at 65.3 which was considerably better than Ford’s mark. While Ford continues to rehab for a second straight offseason and prepare himself to be ready come camp, Brandon Beane has been hard at work solidifying the position resigning both Feliciano and Boettger. When asked about the future status of Cody Ford, Beane had this to say. “We like his versatility… I would be surprised if he’s not a starter in our front five next year.” Considering Beane resigned top free agent and 2020 standout Darryl Williams to a handsome contract a return to right tackle would be off the table, and with Feliciano being the best of the rest it seems there should be a stiff competition for the remaining job and it is likely Beane will look to add to the interior early in the draft, creating the Cody Ford dilemma.

Both Beane and McDermott appear to be high on Cody Ford, they seem willing to give him every available opportunity to develop into the player they envisioned him being when they drafted him, even if that means shuffling him around the line or playing him over guys who are out preforming him as was the case when he was slotted in the lineup over Nsekhe at tackle and Boettger at guard. No one wants to see him fail, in fact it is quite the opposite, fans want to see him blossom into the stud that was promised. Not only will it help us get over the Wyatt Teller mishap but it will go a long way to making this offense as formidable as all the experts believe it can be. With the interior of our line improved through Cody Ford our run game will undoubtedly open up, which will take the pressure off of Allen and place it on opposing defenses as they now have to contend with an elite passing attack as well as a potent run game. A better Cody Ford will mean better protection for Allen, which leads to more time in the pocket, more time for our receivers to separate which leads to even more completions, even more yards, even more points and even more wins. The question is, if he doesn’t take the next step in his development, if he shows the same struggles, how far are they willing to go to prove that they were right in moving up to take him? How long are they going to accept mediocrity from him? How long are they going to keep a better solution on the bench while he tries to sort it out on the field? How long are they willing to protect him and make excuses for him if he fails to produce at the levels expected? All we can hope for as fans is that Ford himself makes this all a non-issue by stepping up, by shedding bad habits, by exploiting his own talents and becoming a legitimate starting guard. Only time will tell…

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