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The NFL doesn’t have many offensive tackles like the Bills’ Cody Ford — yet

Retired defensive end Stephen White was eventually won over by Ford, who could end up as the best tackle in this draft class.

The Buffalo Bills picked Cody Ford 38th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Ford ahead of the draft:

I will admit it took a while for Cody Ford to grow on me.

See, not that long ago it used to be that left tackles were supposed to be the “finesse” guys, while right tackles were supposed to be your “maulers.” A lot of that stemmed from the fact most teams wanted a guy at left tackle who could pass block out on an island all by himself against what was usually the opposing defense’s best pass rusher.

On the other hand, because most teams favored running the ball to their right, they usually looked for a “road grader” type run blocker for their right tackle, knowing that they could help him out with tight end bumps and running back chips when it came time to throw the ball.

Obviously times have changed.

The NFL is undoubtedly a passing league now, and more and more teams are starting to open up their playbook. That means more guys out into routes, and fewer guys staying in to help with pass protection.

Couple that with the fact we are living in somewhat of a golden era of pass rushers who like to line up on the defense’s left edge, and it’s clear that your right tackle better be able to hold his own as a pass blocker or your quarterback had better be some kin to Houdini.

What took me a while to come around on Ford was the fact I still have somewhat of that old-school mentality when it comes to right tackles, and I had to check myself on it. He is a big guy at 6’4 and almost 330 pounds, but Ford was not a physically dominating presence when it came to run blocking, and initially that was somewhat of a disappointment.

Which is not to say Ford was a bad run blocker.

The truth is, assignment-wise at least, he looked at least solid, if not spectacular. However, he just didn’t have the same initial “pop” on contact that jumps off the screen as, say, a guy like Jawaan Taylor.

Ford also didn’t drive a lot of guys off the ball, either. Mind you, he rarely lost ground after he engaged with a defender, but there just weren’t a lot “explosive” run blocks on his tape.

But you know what, after reflecting on it, I don’t really care all that much about whether or not Ford was pancaking fools left and right. Yeah, that would’ve been nice, but I can live with him being just an “OK” run blocker, because when it came time to throw the ball he was putting clamps on these dudes.

Ford’s grasp can frustrate the hell out of pass rushers.

Ford wasn’t flashy, but damn if he wasn’t effective as hell at shutting down edge rushers of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. It all started with how consistent he was with his footwork.

He was always able to get just the right amount of width and depth on his initial kick step, and Ford rarely overset no matter how wide the edge rusher lined up.

That consistent kick step of his allowed Ford to intercept speed rushers before they could turn the corner. It also allowed Ford the ability to recover if that edge rusher tried an inside move instead.

After he got that initial kick step in, Ford was good at mirroring his opponents.

He was able to shuffle laterally quickly without crossing over his feet, and wherever the edge rushers went, Ford stayed on them like their shadow. He was also efficient with his movements, always staying under control and on balance so that he could easily change directions.

In addition to Ford’s impressive footwork, he was also great with his hands. He was patient with his punch, choosing only the most opportune times to strike with them.

When he did get his hands on his opponents, Ford usually locked onto them like he had vise grips for fingers and refused to let go. Whenever Ford was able to grab hold of a guy, the play was pretty much over for him. Trust me, nothing is more demoralizing for a pass rusher than being stuck on a block you can’t get off of.

In the four games of his I watched, I saw plenty of frustrated pass rushers try, and fail, to loosen themselves from Ford’s clutches once he got his hands on them.

There are some NFL linemen who could learn a thing or two from Ford.

But it wasn’t just Ford’s punch or grip that impressed me about how he used his hands in pass protection. He also has already learned how to chop down on a pass rusher’s arms before that pass rusher can try to do a power rush, like a bull rush or a long arm, on him.

The first time I saw him do it I had to rewind the tape a few times just to make sure I wasn’t tripping. There are starting NFL offensive tackles who either don’t know how to do that, or aren’t comfortable enough with the technique to try it in a game. Yet here was this kid mixing it into his regular repertoire, and looking quite good while doing so.

I was also very impressed with Ford’s ability to pass off stunts and pass-rush games. He never seemed to be taken off guard when pass rushers tried to switch lanes, and he almost always smoothly transitioned into blocking the next guy when it happened.

Ford’s remarkable mix of premium talent and technique was accentuated by the fact that he plays like a savvy veteran. The guy looked like he was born to pass block, and he was only beaten two times in four games.

By the way, this sack against Alabama was not one of them. Ford had his guy blocked pretty well, but the quarterback just basically ran himself right into the sack.

But I digress.

Both of the times he did get beat were on moves where the defender was able to swat his hands away. That is going to happen sooner or later, even to the best of blockers; however, only one of those two plays resulted in an actual pressure for the defender.

In four games the only pressure of any kind Ford gave up was the other sack in the Alabama game that wasn’t really a sack. The quarterback managed to stay off the turf as the replays showed, but the refs had already blown their whistles, which means it went down as a sack anyway, unfortunately for Ford.

Regardless, only giving up one pressure in four games is still kind of amazing.

He is a “just enough” guy — and that’s not a bad thing.

In this day and age, you can’t stick a right tackle out there to protect your $20 million-per-year quarterback if he can’t pass block. The offenses are too wide open, and, as I mentioned before, the dudes rushing off the left edge are too good. Going by that criteria, Ford is probably more ready to start right now than Taylor, even though Taylor showed more flashes of dominance.

Let me go back to Ford’s run blocking for a second, though. He may not have been dominant, but he wasn’t some slappy out there, either. He was more of a position blocker, and he was pretty good at making sure the guys he was blocking couldn’t get where they wanted to go.

While it’s true that he didn’t rack up a bunch of pancakes, Ford was routinely what I would call a “just enough” guy. He would get just enough push on the defender to give the ball carrier a lane to work with. Those kinds of blocks aren’t as exciting to watch, but as long as they’re effective, that’s all that truly matters.

I also want to point out that while Ford wasn’t freight-training guys on the second level like Taylor, once he got on somebody at linebacker depth, he usually stayed on them for the duration.

As a matter of fact, some of his best blocks were out in space where his athleticism was able to shine through yet again.

Oklahoma definitely tried to put that athleticism to good use in the run game. The Sooners had him pull across the formation an astounding 22 times over the course of four games.

I rarely see guards with that many pulls in four games.

But a tackle? Damn near unheard of.

But here’s the thing ... he wasn’t really all that good at it.

I mean, he was quick enough and fast enough to get across the formation, usually, but once he actually got there, things frequently tended to take a turn for the worse.

And yet Oklahoma just kept right on asking him to pull over and over again.

Well, hey, the fact he is athletic enough to pull is certainly a plus and not something you see from a right tackle every day. A good offensive line coach should be able help a guy like Ford clean up his mechanics at the end of a pull so he is in better position to actually make a block once he gets where he is going.

He looked fine running out and blocking people on screens, after all.

So while Ford isn’t going to knock guys five yards off the ball, a creative coach should be able to pair Ford’s ability to move in space with some innovative run schemes. The kinds of plays you couldn’t run with an old-school, road grader type of right tackle.

Ford could represent the NFL’s future at right tackle.

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ford could slide over to left tackle and hold up well over on that side, too.

I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but with the way he pass blocks, I could seem him being able to do it.

That kind of versatility is very valuable and uncommon in offensive tackles.

Usually it’s the other way around — trying to move guys not good enough to play left tackle over to the right side — but I wouldn’t be shocked if it went the other way with Ford.

To be clear, I’m not saying it’s likely. I just think he has that kind of potential as a pass blocker especially.

With the way the NFL continues to evolve, a guy who is more athletic than powerful like Ford at right tackle will probably soon become the norm. If your OC wants to send five eligible receivers out on a route almost every play, then your right tackle is going to have to be able to block an edge rusher on his own, period. Nobody is going to give a damn how many pancakes that guy has if he keeps letting Von Miller run through your quarterback’s chest.

Yes, it took me a few times watching his tape before I came to really appreciate Ford’s play, but now I am completely sold on the guy.

With his ability to protect the passer, his athleticism as run blocker, and his potential to play at either tackle spot, Ford looks to me like a guy who should be drafted in the top half of the first round in a few weeks.

He may well end up being the best tackle to come out of this draft class.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Oklahoma right tackle Cody Ford play against FAU, UCLA, West Virginia, and Alabama. Those represented the first, second, 12th, and 14th games on Oklahoma’s schedule last season, respectively.