Poona Ford’s pre-draft process and subsequent draft day experience was one of the more curious in recent memory. The former Longhorn enjoyed a successful four-year career at Texas and earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. Both in the practices and in the game itself, Ford impressed. So much so that he earned an invitation to the following week’s Senior Bowl. In Mobile, he again impressed, produced and played well.
Despite a strong double showing on the college All-Star circuit, no Scouting Combine invitation came for Ford. True to form, Ford instead showed out at the Longhorns’ pro day, testing well in the vertical and broad jumps, as well as a short shuttle in the 80th percentile (the drills which the Seahawks focus on at defensive tackle).
After all that, Ford went undrafted. Yet it was immediately obvious he’d stick around in the NFL and thankfully, Seattle. Ford cracked the Seahawks’ rotation as a rookie and impressed in limited action, playing just under a quarter of the defensive snaps (23.3 percent). Ahead of his sophomore campaign, it was clear Ford would take on an increased role, and Pete Carroll emphasized as much, saying:
When we looked back on the season, we should have played him more. He’s really an instinctive player. It took awhile to appreciate that. He’s unique, because of his stature and style. He uses his (arm length) so well, and has great quickness. He gave us indications; we saw it. In time, because he’s such an aware player, he’s going to know where the ball is going almost every snap.
Carroll was proven correct in all aspects: Ford played nearly half of the defensive snaps (47.3 percent) and consistently displayed tremendous quickness, balance and awareness. All of those traits went into Ford taking a step forward in 2019, proving he is a great run defender in the NFL.
Ford’s combination of balance and quickness is of tremendous importance to Seattle within their division. The Rams, 49ers and Cardinals are all outside zone-heavy run teams, with the first two teams’ offenses being predicated on their ability to run to the perimeter consistently. Ford defends the run laterally so well, as he’s able to move down the line with quickness and without getting put on the ground, as his stature provides him with a competitive advantage in that area.
However, Ford’s short-area quickness is often so effective that he does not need to bother with moving down the line laterally. One of the most entertaining parts of Seahawks games in 2019 was seeing Ford get a step on an opposing offensive lineman off the snap and flat out beat the running back to the edge. Again, his outstanding balance is a factor there—even taking a two-handed shove to the side, he is unmoved and can continue his pursuit.
Ford’s balance is at the center of his playmaking ability. It’s a competitive advantage against any guard or center he finds himself up against, and it allows him to pursue through traffic at the most advantageous angle available. Whether he is working laterally down the line or breaking into the backfield, his balance stands out snap-in and snap-out.
While Ford’s splash plays come when he is able to display his superior balance or short-area quickness, his most promising moments in 2019 came when he played stout inside. Ford’s ability to not only hold up at the offense’s point of attack, but disrupt the run from there, is fantastic and an encouraging sign that he can be the defense’s central run defender for years to come.
Through the first two seasons of his career, Ford has just a half-sack and five quarterback hits. Between his role and the way Seattle rotates their defensive line, it may be unlikely that Ford ever becomes a three-down defensive lineman—a player who penetrates as effectively against the pass as the run. However, he has already proven to be an excellent two-down defender who disrupts the run consistently. For the Seahawks in the NFC West, that’s a terrific piece to find as an undrafted free agent.