The NFL Scouting Combine and Free Agency are around the corner, and one topic of discussion among Bills fans is what to do with the apparent hole at left guard. Veteran Quinton Spain appears set to hit free agency, and that leaves the Bills with quite a big decision. Do they pay Spain the going rate at guard, which according to Over the Cap is just under $7 million per year, or do they move on and go another route, and if so, what are the other routes?
Currently, the Bills have center/guard Spencer Long and guards Jon Feliciano, Ike Boettger, and the versatile Ryan Bates. Long has a wealth of starting experience playing at all three of the positions along the interior line. He played 169 snaps last season at right guard, but he shouldn’t be considered a starter. One could argue his versatility is much more valuable to the team as the ‘swing backup’. Feliciano’s “find work” mentality was welcomed in 2019 and, aside from 104 snaps at center when Mitch Morse was out of the lineup, fans can expect Feliciano to stay entrenched at right guard. Boettger and Bates aren’t starters, in my opinion, and will be competing for a roster spot.
But the wildcard to this entire conversation is right tackle Cody Ford. Ford is also a Swiss army knife along the offensive line. He’s a guy that started in all of the games as a rookie at right tackle, but it was a campaign that tested Ford’s physical and mental toughness. The consistency was just not there, which is no surprise for a rookie offensive lineman. Ford displaced defensive linemen in the run game and used his 34-inch arm length to widen the pocket for his quarterback, but there were also times when his foot speed and hand placement failed him. Ford surrendered eight sacks, one QB hit, and 26 QB hurries. He also racked up 10 penalties: five offensive holding calls, one false start, one unnecessary roughness, one illegal use of hands, and one WEAK illegal blindside block. The holding calls are the only calls that are generally seen as a lapse in technique, and the Bills were ranked ninth in offensive holding calls in 2019.
Ford’s former offensive line coach, Bedenbaugh, believes that while he can play tackle, that his highest ceiling may be as a guard, and I would agree:
“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.”
Buffalo took his words and ran with them, having Ford start but split time with veteran Ty Nsekhe, and that cross-training will be valuable regardless of where he starts in 2020. Many fans want him to bump inside, back to left guard, a position he saw time at in Oklahoma. But that would force the Bills to look for help at tackle as they head into Free Agency and the Draft. Ford has experience at guard, as you can see below.
Outstanding size. Gritty competitor. Plays an old-school, backyard-brawler brand of football and seeks to finish blocks. Functional positional run blocker. Good versatility — has played both tackle positions and can serve as an emergency tackle in a pinch. Three-year starter in the Big Ten Conference.
Can improve weight-room strength — only bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times. Inconsistent technician. Lacks ideal agility to handle edge speed and can be challenged by quick inside rushers and counter moves. Lumbers to the second level.
Big-bodied brawler who does not look pretty but consistently finds a way to get the job done in confined quarters and has the makeup of a sixth offensive lineman. Versatility could allow to be drafted late and eventually work his way into a starting lineup with continued development.
That profile of Norwell shows a lot of similarities between him and Ford. The second player who caught my eye was Gabe Jackson. Jackson was drafted as a guard in 2014 by the Raiders, a team where current Bills offensive line coach Bobby Johnson coached tight ends from 2015-2017. So, he has a wealth of knowledge on Jackson and how he wins in the NFL. Jackson plays right guard, and when he went down with an injury, his primary backup was Jon Feliciano.
Coach Johnson came to the Bills prior to the 2019 season and was a major reason Feliciano, another BIG guard, was brought in to revamp the Bills’ offensive line. One other Jackson-and-Johnson nugget is that Jackson’s best comp of Denzelle Good (6-foot-5, 345 pounds) is about to hit free agency, as well, and played 337 snaps in 2019 at left and right guard..
Norwell and Jackson are the two examples of guys that shared Ford’s athletic profile and succeeded at guard over tackle. Anthony Davis, Avery Young, and Joe Barksdale fizzled out at tackle for a multitude of reasons. Davis played six years, surrendered 39 sacks, 27 QB hits, and 145 QB pressures. Young was an undrafted free agent brought in by the Saints, had a cup of tea with Bills Assistant GM Joe Schoen and the Dolphins in 2017, and now currently plays tackle for the New York Guardians of the XFL. Barksdale bounced around the league and is currently a free agent.
What does this all mean? Not much, but it does give you a glimpse into Ford’s athletic profile, along with some of his NFL comps. While Ford began to show progress late in the season, his move to guard is still in the front of fans’ minds. And who could blame them? A lot of factors support the notion that a move to guard would be a successful one.
Last year, the Bills signed Long in February, Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle in March, Spain in April, and then drafted Ford in May. I think what the Bills do in Free Agency will be a major sign revealing their plans for Cody Ford.