Possibly the most important issue the Detroit Lions have faced this season has been the inability to field anyone at cornerback across from Darius Slay. Nevin Lawson has not improved the past few seasons. Teez Tabor is starting to look like he will never contribute as an NFL player. Injuries have clearly ruined any future Deshawn Shead has in the NFL. Detroit’s usually steady pass defense fell off a cliff this season and the CB2 position is the most responsible.
Enter Mike Ford. The undrafted free agent out of Southeastern Missouri was on Detroit’s practice squad for much of the season until he finally got the nod to join the active roster on November 14th. He suited up for his first career NFL a few days later as he was listed as a starter in the team’s win over the Carolina Panthers. He was a starter once again on Thanksgiving and a decent performance caught the attention of many on first watch.
Only two games into his career, many are starting to see Ford has a future piece on defense. Some are chattering about his potential as a long-term option at CB2.
But is he worth the hype?
No. Probably not.
Ford’s best traits are what he can athletically bring to the table. He has the speed to keep up with a lot of receivers in man coverage and is usually agile enough to stay with them stride-for-stride on a lot of their routes downfield. This also allows him to mostly keep plays in front of him, leaving him less of a liability to get scorched deep.
These skills also translate well when he is attacking the flat. If he spots plays in front of him in time, he has the speed to quickly crash down and attack the flats. His ability to tackle coming downhill is similar to that of Quandre Diggs.
Unfortunately, also similar to Diggs, he struggles at chasing down tackles and making plays when the action is not directly in front of him.
Where Ford struggles most is with the mental part of the game. While he physically has the ability to keep up with some of the best receivers in the game, he has awful coverage instincts. He is late reacting to his opponents’ routes, and his footwork needs work too.
This becomes very clear when he drops back into zone coverage. Ford generally knows his assignment and knows what part of the field he is supposed to be covering. His presence in his zone usually does not matter, though, as he reacts so slowly to the quarterback’s passes, and he usually just gets beat underneath. Ford is great at guarding space but he is not very good at guarding receivers who enter that space. He is a poor ball player and rarely gets to the receiver in time to break up the pass.
His poor instincts and reaction time also hurt in man coverage. While he is fast enough to keep up with opposing receivers, he does not do a great job mirroring their routes. He is almost always caught a step behind once when ever a receiver breaks on his route. This makes him a liability on timing routes as he never is in the right spot to break up the play.
While Ford is not perfect—and Detroit will still need to bring in a better corner this offseason to play across Slay—he does have some utility for Detroit. He should be the team’s starting corner to finish out the 2018 season. When the Lions inevitably have to make room for a new CB2, they would probably be better keeping Ford over Tabor, and maybe even Lawson.
The corner has five more games to audition himself to the NFL. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and he has time to prove that he is worth keeping around. If the Lions choose to let him go, then he has a chance to put good film out there for other suitors.
Is Ford the solution to the Lions problems?
Is Ford a potential gem in a mess of a 2018 season?