On May 8, 2014, Kansas City Chiefs fans were looking for a wide receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft. Or a safety. Or an offensive lineman. Or a cornerback.
The Chiefs already had Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. No fans were thinking about the Chiefs drafting a pass rusher — and if they were, there was one name that wasn’t passing their lips.
But “Dee Ford” was the name the commissioner spoke that night, as the Chiefs picked Ford — a defensive end from Auburn — with the 23rd selection in the first round.
I remember seeing video from the Chiefs draft party at Arrowhead Stadium. The room went completely quiet when Ford’s name was announced. Few fans understood the move, and fewer still had even heard of Ford.
But Chiefs GM John Dorsey was convinced, telling reporters that he believed the Chiefs had drafted the second-best pass rusher available — after Jadeveon Clowney, whom the Houston Texans had picked with the first overall pick.
“If you watch the national championship game against Florida State, if you watch him against Texas A&M, even if you watch him in the Senior Bowl, the way he dominated people in the Senior Bowl, he’s got a unique trait,” Dorsey said that night. “Not only is it speed, but what the great pass rushers have is they have this strong interior hip, when they start leaning to the quarterback, he doesn’t lose his balance and he continues to drive forward and that, to me, is a very rare trait.”
With Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on the team, there was little opportunity for Ford to see the field. And when he did, sometimes things didn’t go well. There was that viral video of Ford appearing to run away from San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore — one that now, years later, still seems to define him in the eyes of some Chiefs fans.
But hey... Ford got national exposure for it. Unfortunately, it was on a C’Mon, Man! segment on ESPN.
None of that was fair to the rookie linebacker. But NFL players aren’t always treated fairly, and there was nothing to do but keep going forward.
Late in 2015, Ford got the chance to start. In his second game as a starter — a pivotal game against the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead — Ford exploded for three sacks and seven tackles, and he broke up a pass from Philip Rivers to Danny Woodhead in the end zone on the last play of the game.
@Chiefs Dee Ford keeps @Chargers Danny Woodhead from catching touchdown pass on last play, 10-3 Chiefs win. @KCStar pic.twitter.com/90m1F2aG7l— John Sleezer (@jsleezer) December 13, 2015
The play saved the game — and possibly the entire Chiefs season. In case you don’t remember, this was the season the Chiefs started 1-5, and needed to win 10 straight games to make the playoffs.
If Ford hadn’t made that play, the Chiefs’ first playoff victory since 1993 probably wouldn’t have happened.
The following season, Ford started 14 games and began to make an impact, recording 10 sacks. It gave fans some hope that Ford might finally be maturing into the player they would expect to get from the draft’s first round.
Dee Ford with the strip sack! #KCvsOAK https://t.co/DcFicKUwOL— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 16, 2016
But six games into the 2017 season, Ford had to step off the field, as a nagging — and painful — back injury required surgery to correct. Even worse, the circumstances of the situation required that the Chiefs pick up the fifth year of Ford’s contract.
So now, the pressure is on for Ford.
And through two games, he has been one of the bright spots of a Chiefs defense that could use some. In an analysis of the Chiefs victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Pro Football Focus laid out the case.
If there was a small positive on the Chiefs defense it was the play of edge defender Dee Ford, as he was able to generate a couple of hits and several hurries on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This is the second-straight game in which Ford has stood out, which is a good sign for a former first-round draft pick who has struggled thus far in his career.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, a clearly relaxed and confident Ford said that he’s excited to return to Arrowhead Stadium to play the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. ”It’ll be pretty emotional to me because the last home game that I was at, I was on the sideline because I had just gotten the second back surgery. To be here now — healthy once again — will be very emotional for me. I’m excited.”
Head coach Andy Reid said Ford is completely ready to go this season.
“He has a full grasp of the defense, and he’s healthy. He’s been nicked up here and there in years past. He feels good right now, and he’s moving fast. We saw that during camp. He’s in phenomenal shape. He’s done a good job with that. His strength is up. Most of all, he’s healthy. He’s able to get out there every day.”
Ford said it had been a difficult trip back from the injury.
“It feels good. It was a long road to get back — and I’m still getting better — but for the human being part, the wellness part, it’s good to be out there healthy. And now it’s good to get out there and sharpen the iron and get better each week.”
Ford is aware that his defensive unit is under intense scrutiny after giving up so many yards (and points) in the season’s first two games, but he remains confident.
“We can be very good. It’s funny to hear people talk about the yardage we’re giving up and all that. We’re a very new defense, and we’re making some really big plays out on the field, and we understand we’re not even scratching the surface of how good we can be. It’s very early.
“We’re just going to continue to get better, and I think we’re going to shock a lot of people.“