While the Pittsburgh Panthers are not a household name in the college football landscape, the NFL world is covered with former talented Panthers. From Aaron Donald to Darrelle Revis to Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt is a place that consistently produces NFL level talent. All these stars played significant roles for the Panthers, and more talented players from Pittsburgh are on their way. Some defensive backs, including Avonte Maddox, K’Waun Williams, and Jordan Whitehead, hailed from Pittsburgh. The next in line for NFL Draft glory is the talented Panthers safety Paris Ford.
Paris Ford NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 190 pounds
Year: Redshirt Junior
Paris Ford was a consensus four-star prospect coming out of high school and has secured himself as one of the best safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft. If you were from Western Pennsylvania and were around the High School football scene, you knew who Ford was. Playing at local sports powerhouse Seton LaSalle, Ford racked up numbers and offers, including offers to play at Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, and other national powerhouses.
In his Senior season, Ford transferred to Steel Valley, another state powerhouse. It was in his Senior season where Ford helped Steel Valley all the way to a State Championship. The Ironmen mercy-ruled every team they faced that season, including a 49-7 rout of Southern Colombia in the State Championship. Behind Ford’s 92 rushing yards, 41 receiving yards, two touchdowns, seven tackles, and three tackles for loss, Steel Valley won it all.
When signing day came, Ford shunned all of the top schools and committed to his hometown school in Pitt. Ford was not shy about his feelings, indicating that he wanted to play at Pitt since he was in sixth grade. The first two years of his stint at Pitt were nothing to write home about, as Ford redshirted his first season. The next season Ford was expected to get into the lineup, but it never came. Ford only played four games but ended up getting five special teams tackles.
Then came his breakout 2019 season. Ford went off and quickly established himself as one of the best safeties in the ACC as he earned All-ACC honors. His big 11 tackle day in Happy Valley was an impressive standout performance. However, his two-interception day against Duke included a pick-six that put him firmly on the national radar.
Even after he was ejected in that game due to a targeting call, Ford made it known he was a playmaker who would lay the wood. Throughout the rest of the season, Ford would continue to have great games. Against Miami, Ford registered a career-high four pass deflections. Even in a 28-0 loss for Pitt in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech, Ford’s speed and big hits made him known around the country. After a fantastic 12 tackle game against Eastern Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl, Ford positioned himself to be a top-100 NFL Draft pick possibly.
Paris Ford opts out, ending his 2020 season
Following a four-game losing streak by the Pitt Panthers, Paris Ford has decided to end his season prematurely and opted out of the Panthers’ final four games to focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. This means that Ford will not get to put out tape against Clemson, but given his strong tape already on the season, even a strong game against the Tigers would not have done much to improve his stock. It is a move that will draw controversy, but it makes a lot of sense for Ford.
Ford has proven he can work as a deep safety and in multiple coverage schemes. His new 2020 tape that proves he can work better in these zones with his athleticism and ball skills is a huge part of why his stock has improved. He is no longer just viewed as a box safety that can come downhill and make big tackles. On the contrary, Ford has shown he is capable in that role, in the slot, and as a deep safety in both Cover 1 and Cover 2 schemes. That versatility will be viewed as a huge plus among NFL teams.
Having already proved it this season, it would stand to say there is not much Ford could do over the last few games to increase his draft stock any more than it already is right now. The way he improves his draft stock is with an outstanding NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. If he can put up some impressive numbers there, Ford has a chance to go even higher than initially thought. He also needs to bulk up, so taking these few months before the draft process to do so is a good idea.
Ford will also avoid the risk of any potentially serious injury that could put a dent in his draft stock thanks to this opt-out. Instead, he has a chance to improve it at the Combine and Pitt’s pro day this spring. He is as talented a safety as there is in this class and should be a highly sought after prospect among NFL teams. Look for Ford to be a slam dunk top-100 prospect with the upside to work his way even higher up draft boards.
Paris Ford struggles against Notre Dame in a game that raises some questions
Pitt and Ford were on the wrong end of a shellacking by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as they fell 45-3 at Heinz Field. However, what may be most important was how poorly Ford played throughout the entire game. In a rare down game, and most certainly his worst of the season, Ford looked like just another guy who made the same mistakes as everyone else across the field. Now, one game can cause some overreactions, but the negatives of Ford’s game showed up throughout the contest.
While thus far on the season, he has excelled in that deep zone role thanks to his athleticism, it is clear he is still figuring some things out. On the first Notre Dame touchdown, Ian Book floated a pass over the middle to Ben Skowronek, and it was a very interceptable ball. Unfortunately, Ford is still trying to process route combinations and when to hit the gas pedal to drive on the football. That is still a very inconsistent part of his game, and he was a step late on that throw. It was the difference between an interception and a touchdown for the Panthers defense.
In somewhat of another concerning move, the Panthers ran a pattern-matching coverage in the end zone where Ford drifted back to cut off the corner route. Book’s errant pass and processing would have allowed Ford to get the interception back. Ford made the right play but dropped the pass. This is now the second time this season that Ford has dropped an interception, including the one against Boston College. The ball awareness is there, but Ford may need some reps on the JUGS machine.
All-day long, Ford seemed a split second late to process most things, showing that he is still developing comfort in these deep zones. At times it feels like Ford is drifting into no man’s land rather than reading and reacting to what is in front of him in the play. With more tough games and opponents on the block, including Clemson, Ford will get the valuable experience and reps that he needs to feel more comfortable in these zone coverages that are novel to him. While this performance might not have hurt Paris Ford’s NFL Draft stock, it certainly didn’t help.
Paris Ford’s stifles the Hurricanes and Miami in a game that epitomizes his skillset
The Pitt defense surrendered 31 points to Miami, and with all that said, it seems to be right on par with them for the season. D’Eriq King never looked comfortable and was rattled by the pressure, but it was the Panthers secondary that stepped up to make King’s life really hard.
No matter what the Hurricanes did, the Panthers stifled them. The rushing attack was not going anywhere, and King seldom found open receivers. Communication issues mostly marred a few big plays on the back end, causing the Panthers to surrender as much as 31 points. In the modern NCAA with the high-octane offenses, the Panthers defense did enough to win the game.
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Ford was a huge catalyst in the outstanding performance. Pitt is finding its footing as Pat Narduzzi continues to make more and more scheme coverage changes. Once a scheme that played an overwhelming amount of Cover 1 and sometimes even Cover 0 that left cornerbacks on an island, the Panthers are running more quarters, Cover 2, and Cover 3 than any time before under Narduzzi. Needless to say, for Ford, this new role in a more diverse scheme on the back end is testing out his capabilities.
Thus far in the year, Ford has done exceptionally well in this role. Against Miami, he was part of a miscommunication that let a wheel route go right down the sideline uncovered, but it was not his man or fault. Ford is blanketing players when in man coverage out of the slot. He has been asked to do that more than ever before with more two-high shells. When Pitt runs zone, especially against the Hurricanes, Ford’s name was not heard much as King tried to avoid him.
Despite being quiet, Ford is flying around everywhere and is still in on various run plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. However, with an inexperienced cornerback to his side, Ford has been asked to aid the young cornerbacks that rotate in on his side more than just running down guys from a pseudo-linebacker role this year.
The few times he was put on tight end Will Mallory were some of his best reps. King’s interception in the third-quarter shows just how well Ford is settling into his role in the slot and as a deep safety. On a quick out route, King hits his man right out of his break. Ford, who gave the receiver about eight yards of cushion, is already driving on the football towards the sideline. He jumps the route and takes it back inside the Panthers 20-yard line as a result. It capped a memorable day for Ford that will boost his draft stock.
With the new role, Ford shows he is not just a box safety that can hit someone hard. More so, he is a versatile player who can work in that role, man cover guys in the slot, and work as a deep safety with his athleticism. Ford laid a hefty shot over the middle of the field on Cam’Ron Harris, too. That part of his game is not going away.
He finished the day with six tackles and an interception.
Paris Ford proves versatility in the first five games
The most important thing for Ford as he stepped into the new role was to prove he has the man coverage chops to work in the slot. Thus far, we have seen him prove just that. The game that highlighted his slot ability was against Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell in Week 3. A speed demon, Atwell had been burning the Cardinals in the slot all day, and as an adjustment, the Panthers put Ford on him. Once that was done, Atwell was locked up, especially in downfield. Louisville had to resort to throwing screens and manufactured touches to Atwell for the rest of the game.
Ford continued to prove his playmaking chops as he registered two interceptions in two games against Austin Peay and Syracuse. Against the Orange, Ford made a spectacular diving grab off an errant screen pass. There were hints of it last year, but Ford proves his downhill explosiveness to drive on the ball and catch point is a hallmark of his game.
Against Boston College, Ford was involved heavily in stopping the run. Unlike previous games, this is where Ford played in that pseudo-linebacker role more so. Against Phil Jurkovec and a talented backfield, Ford brought out the hammer multiple times and helped hold the Eagles to negligible success on the ground. Even in coverage against Hunter Long, Ford proved to be stout, including dropping a near interception.
Everything we knew about him has shown up on his tape, but Ford continues to prove he can do more early on in the season even more so.
Paris Ford NFL Draft best fits
Ford’s versatility proves he can play anywhere in essentially any scheme. More off, he has proven he can work as a middle of the field robber, a two-high safety, a slot cornerback, and the big hitter in the box. NFL coaches are going to love that versatility on the back end. Ford’s ball skills and athleticism allow him to do all of those things at an NFL level.
As such, teams that love to mix and match coverages could look here with intrigue. The Las Vegas Raiders make a lot of sense for Ford. The Raiders are hurting in a big way at the safety spot, and Ford has the type of physicality that the Raiders love to have in their safeties. Jonathan Abram is just one example of it. They ask their safeties to work into a pseudo-linebacker role, and in the two-high shells, so his versatility fits well.
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Two other intriguing fits are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Like it or not, Ford is made for AFC North football. He knows the culture since he works in the facility right next to the Steelers, and both of these teams have pattern matching complex schemes that they employ. Both like to mix it up between man coverage and zone, and Ford can fit into that. His brand of physical football is welcome to these AFC North teams as well. These teams have talented players and implementations in their scheme that can allow Ford to ad-lib over the middle of the field. That is a role he has been effective at with the Panthers.
As far as teams that could use him, the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Atlanta Falcons are all teams that make a world of sense. These are teams that will likely be interested in Ford throughout the process.
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