The Buffalo Bills’ roster may boast one of the NFL’s premier ball-carriers in LeSean McCoy but while the team has yet to play a single preseason game, it’s been “Shady’s” backup, undrafted rookie free agent Keith Ford that’s been making the most headlines throughout Buffalo’s first portion of training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Since 2015, Buffalo established themselves as one of the most dominant rushing offenses in the NFL, finishing No. 1, No. 1 and No. 6 in that span while amassing over 7,000 yards on the ground. Much of this success can fall on McCoy’s shoulders but the Bills’ trio of veteran offensive linemen in center Eric Wood, left guard Richie Incognito and left tackle Cordy Glenn each deserve a ton of credit as well.
During the offseason, Buffalo traded Glenn, released Incognito and Wood retired – leaving fans and analysts to believe that the Bills would aggressively look to rebuild what quite possibly may be the worst stable of running backs in the NFL.
Buffalo signed 30-year old running back Chris Ivory, a physical short-yardage back coming off two miserable seasons with the Jaguars in which he averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry and scored just four touchdowns on 229 attempts after making the Pro Bowl in 2015. Ivory joined Travaris Cadet (29-years old, three starts), Taiwan Jones (30-years old, zero starts) and Marcus Murphy (26-years old, zero starts) to form a rather gross-looking depth chart.
Keith Ford isn’t just a feel-good training camp storyline
To many, the name Keith Ford doesn’t mean much, if anything at all. Most Bills fans attending a training camp practice likely see No. 35 and write him off as a “camp body,” or player just filling out the team’s mandated 90-man roster, going through the motions before ultimately finding himself unceremoniously released when the team cuts down to 53 players. However, just five short years ago it would have been laughable to imagine Keith Ford clawing and fighting for reps at the bottom of a depth chart. It wouldn’t be a bold statement to predict him cracking a roster, much less emerging as a household name.
Keith Ford was a phenom at Cypress Ranch High School where he rushed for 4,079 yards and 49 touchdowns in three years. A five-star recruit, Ford was ranked the nations No. 4 running back and No. 24 overall prospect and received 13 offers from big-time programs before ultimately committing to Oklahoma.
Injury, hardship, trauma derail Keith Ford
As a freshman, Keith Ford rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound bulldozer earned the starting job in 2014 as a sophomore but a broken leg suffered three games into the year caused him to miss five weeks of action and Ford finished the year with 392 rushing yards and five scores on 71 carries in eight games. The following spring, Oklahoma suspended Ford, citing academic and team rule violations – two things the former prized recruit vehemently denies.
True Freshman Samaje Perine took advantage of the opportunity and seized the starting job, ultimately pushing Ford to make the decision to transfer to Texas A&M, where he could be closer to his family after dealing with a gruesome injury, as well as the heartbreak of losing a close friend to gun violence.
Ford had to redshirt for the 2015 season but was named the Aggies’ Offensive Scout Team MVP in 2015 before rushing for 669 yards and six touchdowns on 126 carries, adding 81 yards on five catches in 13 games during the 2016 season. In 2017, Ford scored 12 touchdowns but managed only 548 yards on 139 attempts.
Keith Ford eerily similar to former Bills’ RB Karlos Williams
Keith Ford is extremely similar to a running back that Buffalo Bills fans are very familiar with, Karlos Williams, Buffalo’s fifth-round choice in the 2015 NFL draft. Like Ford, Williams was also a five-star recruit coming out of High School (No. 4 overall recruit, No. 1 safety). Williams and Ford were each undervalued due to their running styles. Both are aggressive, one-cutters with great straight-line speed but lack the shiftiness to make defenders miss or the balance to turn the corner and get downfield for huge plays consistently. They run the ball awkwardly – with high pad level, choppy legs and really, an easier target for defenders to hit – but it works. That upright running style is evident in the following clip Keith Ford.
Both are strong, downhill, aggressive, North-South runners. They can make that one cut jump, plant their foot and gain momentum while accelerating downfield. In the following play against UCLA, Keith Ford does just that. As Ford takes the handoff on 2nd-and-8, the offensive line flows to the left to zone block but the Bruins’ defense holds the point of attack. Ford shows good vision to recognize that there isn’t anywhere to go, before planting his foot and jump-cutting to the right, exploding downfield and building momentum as he accellerates, running through a defender before finally being brought down after a gain of nine yards.
Look familiar, anyone?
Ford doesn’t have that second gear that the elite running backs possess to breakaway for huge yardage but he can run through defenders and serve as a more-than-capable short-yardage or goalline back that could potentially produce like Karlos Williams did
With the amount of unimpressive running backs currently on the Buffalo Bills’ roster, don’t be surprised to see Keith Ford crack the final 53. It’s been a long journey for the 24-year old, but he’s finally looking like the player many originally believed he could be.