Former Pitt standout Paris Ford left the team during the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL Draft. Unfortunately for Ford, that draft came and went without him as the safety went unselected. He wasn’t on the block for long after that, though, with the Los Angeles Rams reportedly signing him as an undrafted free agent.
Ford was once thought to be at least a mid-round pick, so what happened?
Unless you happen to be in draft War Rooms, you don’t really know why teams passed on him. What we can say is Ford’s stock undoubtedly plummeted and heading into last year, the question wasn’t if he would be drafted — it was, how high could he go?
Some might attribute it to his decision to leave the team in the middle of the year. Ford famously quit the team to focus on a pro career. Others point to subpar Pro Day numbers where he ran 40 times at 4.8 and 4.9. Some, of course (probably correctly), point to both of those things as deterrents. None of that even mentions his issues with targeting.
Ford going undrafted was a surprise to me. I do think questions about his attitude are warranted and his Pro Day numbers were certainly lacking. But Ford was also a preseason All-American that delivered plenty of highlights. He certainly produced on the field, too, with three interceptions in each of the last two seasons, and 90 tackles in 2019. The 41 he had last season were off of that pace when he quit the team but Ford certainly proved himself capable. If I’m going by the eye test, Ford just looked like an NFL player to me.
I don’t know — I can understand Ford not being taken early. But I think as, say, a sixth-rounder, a team would have gotten good value. He’s just a very good player in my mind and I’m surprised that a team didn’t take a chance on him in a late round.
All of that said, I think fans also have a narrow-minded perspective when looking at players from their own team. And it’s easy to forget just how many good players there are out there.
Lots of good players often go undrafted or are taken late. I can’t stress that enough. Forget all of the other teams — just look at Pitt players in recent years. Maurice Ffrench broke Pitt’s single-season receptions record with nearly 100 catches and wasn’t taken. Quadree Henderson was a dynamic playmaker and return man with seven special teams touchdowns. He wasn’t taken, either. Darrin Hall went undrafted after rushing for more than 1,100 yards as a senior while sharing the load with another 1,000-yard back in Qadree Ollison. The way Hall was running that year, he probably would have surpassed 1,500 yards as the feature back.
Point blank — very good players go unselected every year. A lot of them. Ford not being selected raises some eyebrows just because of some of the earlier projections on him — for all of their talent, Ffrench, Henderson, and Hall all lacked real discussion of being a potentially high pick. But make no mistake. There are a lot of guys that are just as good as benchwarmers in the NFL that are sitting at home. The margin between making it and not making it is razor thin.
Look, I made my thoughts pretty clear when Ford left the team in the middle of the year. I didn’t like it one bit. And head coach Pat Narduzzi even seemed a bit perplexed by the decision while trying to sound as politically correct as possible. I personally think the decision was infinitely worse than the one Jaylen Twyman made to decide to sit out the season before the year began. At least Twyman made that decision before playing in any games and allowed Pitt to plan for his absence (and, by the way, Twyman’s decision cost him, too, apparently — he wasn’t taken until the sixth round even though he was an All-American as a sophomore).
But back to Ford. What I thought personally doesn’t matter one bit. What does matter is that other NFL teams seemingly thought the same and that, coupled with lackluster Pro Day numbers, was enough to push the heralded Ford entirely out of the draft, whether he necessarily deserved it or not.
The good news for Ford, however, is that he’s got his shot and undrafted players have gone on to have good NFL careers. I don’t know what kind of a pro Ford will make but as an undrafted free agent, the Rams may have gotten a guy that will stick.