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What Seahawks UDFA signing Poona Ford has in common with Russell Wilson

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NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-South Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

With the The-Draft-Is-Over-You-Idiots pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks selected (for signing a UDFA contract) defensive tackle Poona Ford out of Texas.

The Seahawks did not have to draft Ford, instead selecting quarterback Alex McGough in round seven, but many felt surprised that he wasn’t secured by a team during the process.

ProFootballFocus had a draftable grade on Ford, noting him as one of the most notable undrafted free agent signings of 2018 because of his prowess in run defense, even if he may never be notable in pass rush.

I thought that it was interesting to note that Ford was great against the run and not well-regarded against the pass, as it made me think that he’s good insurance for any injury to Jarran Reed. I was curious then if the two had similar athletic profiles and noticed, “Hey, yeah, these guys are about the same height and weight” before realizing that I had totally glossed over the most unusual stat in Ford’s entire profile. Him and Reed are not the same height at all. Reed is a normal (for the NFL) 6’3.

Ford is not even six foot.

That would put Reed’s Body Mass Index at 38.2, compared to 43.4 for the 5’11 Ford. That’s a reasonable difference in body mass and surely gives Ford one of the most “massive rich” bodies in the NFL. If he makes the NFL ... which he might.

Though he was undrafted, Ford likely has just as good of a shot at making a roster as any sixth or seventh round pick. As mentioned, he was just on the cusp of being selected and he has perhaps as many fans and supporters as any undrafted free agent around the league right now.

And Ford aims to please those people:

How decent of a chance does Ford have of accomplishing that business in Seattle? It’s undoubtedly an uphill battle, regardless if he had been picked in round five or undrafted as he was. Last season, the Seahawks held onto four defensive tackles at a time: Reed, Sheldon Richardson, and Nazair Jones, then usually Garrison Smith but sometimes Rodney Coe. Even if Malik McDowell doesn’t get injured, then they likely don’t trade for Richardson, and still keep four defensive tackles.

How many spots are projected to be open on the inside of Seattle’s defensive line?

Reed and Jones return, while Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen were signed in free agency. The Seahawks currently list Quinton Jefferson as a defensive tackle, so that gives them five plus McDowell. One could also argue that third round pick Rasheem Green is going to settle into a defensive tackle spot, though he likely would not have much of an impact there in 2018. Ford certainly seems capable of at least contributing as a run-stopper in the middle as of right now.

It may still be difficult for him to win a job without an injury.

Reed and Jones are presumed as locked in, while Johnson and Stephen have a slight advantage of guaranteed money. It’s not terribly much, but the Seahawks would have $900,000 in dead money with $1.2 million saved if they release Johnson, and $1 million dead/$1.08 million saved if Stephen is let go. They also bring a certain amount of veteran liability and experience: you know what you’re likely going to get from them and they have a combined 11 seasons worth of practices, games, and so on.

If they keep four defensive tackles again, and if Reed, Jones are healthy, Ford may need to force Pete Carroll’s hand in trusting him over Johnson or Stephen, and that’s only presuming that McDowell is still out of the picture, Green is playing on the edge, and Jefferson hasn’t beaten him out for a defensive tackle spot either.

But certainly Ford hasn’t gotten to this point without doing what others did not expect him to do. It’s almost the same storyline as Russell Wilson.

From the 2014 announcement that the four-star recruit would be playing for the University of Texas:

The only thing holding Ford back from being a high four-star prospect is his height. However, height matters as little for defensive tackles as any position, as long as they are right about in the six foot range, as Ford is, because leverage is such an important consideration in the trenches -- winning the leverage battle often determines which linemen wins the overall battle along the line of scrimmage.


Basically if you took Wilson and added 100 lbs to him, you might get Poona Ford. And while height for defensive tackles is not considered to be as important as it is for quarterbacks and some other positions — “height matters as little for defensive tackles as any position” — the record books would seem to disagree.

First of all, every defensive tackle on the Seahawks is at least 6’3. As of 2017, there were five defensive tackles who were listed at 6’7, including former Seattle lineman Tony McDaniel. That’s as many 6’7 defensive tackles in the league as there were 6’ tackles, and zero defensive tackles came in at 5’11.

In fact, you might be able to only find three defensive tackles in the 2000s who were shorter than 6 feet: Dan Klecko, Mike Patterson, and Allen Reese. Reese went undrafted at 5’10 and barely had an NFL career (two games in 2003), Klecko had a few shining moments with the New England Patriots, and Patterson was a very solid player for the Philadelphia Eages, but also went as a first round pick so there were clearly advantages in his game that most 6’ and under defensive tackles don’t have.

You’d think that meant that Ford didn’t have a notable athletic profile, but in fact he does. He just didn’t get a chance to show it at the combine because he didn’t get an invite, a decision that some called the NFL’s biggest “snub” of 2018.

This year’s most surprising snub is Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford, who was the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2017. Although his measureables (5-11 5/8” and 306 pounds, 32 3/4” arms) are substandard, he put together strong senior tape, including solid weeks in Mobile at the Senior Bowl and in St. Petersburg at the East-West Shrine Game.

Note the arms and the postseason performances as pointed out by Star-Telegram:

The knock on Ford, as it’s been the case his entire life, is his height. Ford measured in at 5-foot-11 5/8 at the Senior Bowl. However, he has a massive wingspan of 80 1/4 inches, the same as a 6-foot-8 man.

Plus, Ford has produced on the field.

Ford was impressive during one-on-one drills during Senior Bowl, and then had four tackles, a fumble recovery and sacked Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen once in the Senior Bowl game. Ford also had a sack in the East-West Shrine Game.

He didn’t go to the combine, but then at Texas’s pro day, he showed that he could’ve tested as a top-five defensive tackle in some key areas:

With his mother’s blessing, Payne was in Austin on Wednesday for one of the biggest days in Ford’s athletic life. The 5-11 nose guard finally showed representatives from all 32 NFL teams what they could have seen at the scouting combine had he been invited to Indianapolis.

Not many 305-pounders have a wingspan stretching 80.25 inches. Bevo XV’s horns are merely 60 inches tip to tip. “Why Poona Ford wasn’t invited to the combine, I’ll never know,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.

Ford showed off on the bench press, pushing 225 pounds up and down 24 times. He leaped 29 inches. His standing broad jump was 9.3 feet, and Ford did the three-cone agility drill in 7.4 seconds. Those broad jump and cone numbers would’ve been among the top-five totals among all defensive tackles in Indianapolis.

There were 52 defensive linemen who received NFL combine invitations. Maybe Ford, the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year, should’ve received one after all.

“I really wasn’t worried about it, honestly,” Ford said. “I just looked at it to my advantage. I had more time to prepare and just come out and do my thing.”

And in true Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, always compete with a chip on your shoulder fashion:

“I’m used to being at a disadvantage,” Ford said. “I’m a strong person, and I use that to my advantage. God don’t give his biggest battles to the weakest person.”

And ...

How much motivation do you get from those who call you short?

“A lot, but I’ve been talking about it for so long that I just laugh about it now. But I still use that as a chip on my shoulder.”

It was motivation that got Wilson through his years at NC State, transferring to Wisconsin, leaving baseball despite many predicting that he could never have success as a quarterback at the NFL if he wasn’t 6’ tall, and then dropping to the third round, going into camp as the number three QB, and eventually beating out Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson to start in Week 1 as a rookie.

For Ford, the expectations are even lower (third round vs UDFA is a significant difference) and the players in front of him at his position have many advantages, but that really only gives him nothing to lose. He performed above and beyond at Texas, didn’t get a combine invite, didn’t get drafted, and height history — just as it was in 2012 for Wilson — is only against him. Poona Ford would likely be the shortest defensive lineman in the league if he makes a 53-man roster, next to only Elvis Dumervil, the 5’11 defensive end who remains a free agent; a guy who fell to the fourth round because of his height and then notched 105.5 sacks, the 26th-most ever recorded. Ford’s BMI would only be topped by three defensive tackles: Brandon Williams (6’1, 340) and Michael Pierce (6’, 340) of the Baltimore Ravens and Sealver Siliga (6’2, 345), formerly of the Seahawks.

Ford is an unusual player in an unusual body and that’s a big reason why he’s been cast aside during most of this draft process. But the best players, like Wilson, end up using their unusual traits as their greatest advantages, even if it’s only a mental advantage. Ford seems to fit in that mold. All five feet-eleven inches of it.