Bills’ Cody Ford wants to prove what he CAN do


How many times did we hear “the game is won or lost up front” in 2018? Too many times to count, but there wasn’t a truer phrase. The Bills’ offensive line was the worst we have seen in a long time. According to Pro Football Focus, rookie QB Josh Allen was under pressure the second-most among all QBs, facing pressure on 43.4-percent of his dropbacks. This stress caused him to register a 28.3-percent completion percentage and a 49.5 accuracy percentage, which were both the worst in the league. On top of the pressure, Allen was sacked 28 times and flushed from the pocket on numerous occasions.

The Bills were unable to re-establish the line of scrimmage or control the game. According to Football Outsiders, they were ranked 32nd at getting their running backs into the second level and 30th at getting them into the open field. So a massive overhaul was needed, and General Manager Brandon Beane knew it. He added six free agent linemen via free agency to remake the trenches on the offensive side of the ball, but his work wasn’t done. Number seven came via the 2019 NFL Draft.

Oklahoma Sooners right tackle Cody Ford was expected to be drafted some time in the first round, but his stay in the green room was extended. Beane and his lieutenants were ecstatic when he was still there early in the second round. Buffalo jumped up two spots to pick 38 to secure the mammoth 6-foot-3 3/4, 329-pounder with the hope that he will be one of the final pieces in the team’s mission to protect their franchise QB, Josh Allen.

Ford is another high character kid who graduated early in December 2018 with a degree in Criminology. The redshirt junior was part of a Sooners offensive line that won the Joe Moore award for the top offensive line in college football and helped pave the way for an average of 577.9 yards and 49.5 points per game. So why does the talented lineman feel that he still has something to prove? It’s because many analysts, including myself, have reservations about his ability to play tackle on Sundays, but he Ford attacking this perception just like you would expect. He is ready for the challenge and excited about the opportunity that the Bills have given him to prove his “athleticism and everything I can prove at the tackle position to everybody else is a great honor.”

And that chip on his shoulder is valid.

After redshirting his first year on campus and being named the Oklahoma Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year, Ford cracked the starting lineup in 2016 at left guard. He started three games before snapping his fibula, ending his season. The time away allowed him to focus more on his studies, which was part of the reason he was able to graduate early. But it also showed Cody and others what kind of man he was: “when adversity hit, I never gave up. I never gave up on myself and the guys around me never gave up on me. I appreciate that.”

In 2017, Ford appeared in 12 games, four of which were starts, and he played pretty well. While he only played 337 snaps, opposing players felt his presence. Ford played guard in the 345-pound range but still flashed the right amount of athleticism at that size. While his hand placement in the run and pass game is spotty, his base and wide frame help him overcome those areas of his game that still need to be ironed out. The Sooners under Head Coach Lincoln Riley run a lot of gap runs, including their bread and butter, the G/T Counter Trey. On this play, Ford (left guard) and his teammates execute down blocks on the front side. Ford’s assignment is to pick up any A-gap defender and drive him down the line of scrimmage. The backside guard and tackle will pull and lead up inside.

Ford rarely failed to execute these down blocks. He uses his frame, strong grip, power, and torque to assert his will on defensive linemen and take them where they do not want to go. Ford is consistently “dirt bagging somebody,” per NFL Network correspondent and former New York Giant Shaun O’Hara. He isn’t wrong; Ford’s ability to finish wins you over every time you turn the tape on.

Going into what would be his final season in Norman, coach Bedenbaugh notified Ford that he would be taking reps at right tackle. Luckily, coach Bedenbaugh forces his linemen to learn all of the positions, and when combined with the base run concepts, Ford’s transition was pretty easy. Depending on the front, these down blocks were still a walk in the park. Ford shows outstanding balance, control, and positional leverage when fitting up defenders. But what you were able to see more of was his football IQ and mental processing. Oklahoma played a lot of odd front, or tite front, teams. Generally speaking, the defensive linemen in these schemes are ‘readers.’ They are tasked with getting into the tackle, reading the blocking concept, and then inserting into a gap, which allows the linebackers to fast flow to the ball. This puts Ford in a tough spot; he then must read and process the run fit. You will see Ford adjust to the different defensive structures and late rushers with ease.

Whether he was at guard or tackle, Ford was expected to pull frequently. He improved his ability to stick to defenders on these blocks because of how often the Sooners ran it. According to Sports Info Solutions, Oklahoma ran gap/man concepts 49-percent of the time in 2018. The next closest was inside zone at 27-percent and outside zone at 24-percent. He is well versed in short and long pulls, skip and traditional pulls, pull plays with a single puller or double pullers, like on their counter trey calls. It was on him to read the defenders and decide whether to kick them out, or what is commonly referred to as ‘walling’ a defender, or sealing them inside, also referred to as ‘logging.’  Early on when at guard, he was simply throwing his weight around and getting away with it. But in his final season, Ford’s commitment to his health and shedding of 15 pounds allowed him to pull more smoothly and under control, something that caught HC McDermott’s eyes.

“When you look at the way he played, his play style was physical, but it wasn’t just physical, it was under control.”

Passing Game


While his time at guard was limited, I thought his best assets were maximized as an interior offensive lineman. His athleticism, size, balance, and length help him execute a variety of pass sets. As an interior offensive lineman, the fight happens in a phone booth, not in space. Ford can be aggressive and get his powerful hands on a defensive tackle. The quicker a guard can get into the body of a defensive tackle, the fewer moves that an offensive lineman has ‘to eat’ or deal with.

Ford protected back to back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and both brought their own elements of extending plays. This means that Ford has experience with blocking for extended amounts of time.

This should translate well when he is in the lineup blocking for the Bills’ young stallion, Josh Allen. Allen isn’t going to be a QB who will consistently thrive in the quick game or on script, so Ford’s athleticism and ability to lock on and mirror would be a welcome sight to his young QB. It will allow Allen to keep his eyes downfield or find creases to extend drives with his legs.

“He moves so well,” Head Coach Lincoln Riley told the Norman Transcript. The transition to tackle “was fairly natural for him because of his pass setting.” The weight loss definitely helped that transition; he looked svelte and much more fluid at tackle. What I loved about Ford’s game at tackle that maybe you didn’t see as much of at guard is his ability to process angles. At the root of pass setting, there is the element of angles. The tackle must work to maintain the proper leverage on a pass rusher to protect his inside gap and his outside edge evenly.

This sounds easy, but for a guy as big as Ford, to transition his weight smoothly while essentially running backward is not an easy task. In 877 snaps in 2018, Ford only surrendered one sack and six QB hurries. You can see how well he moves on this angle set versus a wide rusher. The Longhorns align two rushers wide, with one of those rushers being Charles Omenihu (#90), the Big 12 sack leader last season. Texas wants Ford to worry about protecting his inside gap vs. Omenihu rather than gaining depth to protect the arc vs. Jeffrey McCulloch (#23). But Ford is unfazed and confident in his kick slide, and he shows an incredible amount of balance and range.

The Sooners ran play action 46-percent of the time in Ford’s final season, so the redshirt junior wasn’t exposed often. Play action can help offensive linemen because it forces a defensive front to process run first then transition to their pass rush plan. During that transition, Ford was able to quickly get his hands on the rusher as he does here vs. Omenihu. Omenihu’s alignment is head up over the tackle, so Ford doesn’t have to worry about a wide speed rush. On the snap, Ford hinges as the guard pulls. Omenihu is processing the play, and once he realizes it’s a pass, he then loops wide. This allows Ford to mirror and wall off the talented pass rusher.

Ford’s success at tackle may depend on a heavy run first, play action scheme, and that’s why giving him a shot at tackle in Buffalo makes sense. According to Pro Football Focus, Josh Allen was 10th in play action percentage in 2018 at 25.5-percent. Jared Goff led the NFL in play-action percentage at 35.8-percent, so you can imagine how much less Ford will have that crutch. Against Alabama, some of Ford’s weaknesses were brought to light. Specifically, what worried me about him playing tackle on Sundays are his inconsistent hand speed and placement, and his struggles vs. speed-to-power rushers.

Wide, speed rushers who threatened him upfield but then quickly transitioned to power threatened his pass sets. At times, his pad level, balance, and ability to anchor were compromised. Luckily, he had a QB who got rid of the ball or was able to escape the pocket.

You see something similar happen against Baylor. Defensive end Greg Roberts transitions to power and walks Ford back and strips the ball, but Murray picks it up and is still able to complete a pass.

Finally, another area where he wasn’t tested much in college but will be at the next level is against pass rushers who test his lateral agility. His agility in a phone booth is fantastic, but when he is kick-sliding and has a pass rusher who can cut back across his face, he may struggle to transfer his weight in the opposite direction quickly. You see that happen two times in the following clips.

Considering the Bills’ tackle situation long-term, I think starting Ford off at tackle is smart. Let him compete with Ty Nsekhe at right tackle and let the best man win. If he wins the spot, great, but if he struggles against NFL defensive ends and their speed like I think he will, then bump him inside to guard. Take a similar approach to what the Dolphins did with first-round left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Play him inside, let him adjust to the speed of the game, learn the nuances of the positions and of being a pro, then move him back outside if they so choose. Ford has some excellent traits that could translate to tackle, and he has earned a shot. But this regime values versatility, so if he doesn’t beat out Nsekhe, don’t be surprised if he is used at guard.

Ford’s former offensive line coach, Bedenbaugh, said it best:

“The guy moved to tackle and played 14 games at tackle; not many people can do that at his size. We had to move him to tackle, and he was unbelievable. He gave up how many pressures this year? And one sack … Now I’ve never coached in the NFL. But I would start him at tackle. I think he’s an all-pro guard, and he can play tackle.”

 His former coach believes that he could be an all-pro guard and I have seen nothing on film that would beg to differ.

Regardless of the position, the only things Ford needs are consistent reps against NFL pass rushers, not those from the Big 12. That will be his opportunity to prove himself.