For nearly all of Harrison Smith‘s career, the Minnesota Vikings have been unable to find a high-level safety to play alongside him. Up through 2018, the purple’s defensive backfield was littered with a long list of forgettable names that was somehow topped by Andrew Sendejo. Yikes.
Then 2019 brought us Anthony Harris‘ breakout year. A should have been Pro Bowl campaign in which he found himself all over the field in big moments and tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions.
Unfortunately, like many Vikings, 2020 brought some regression in Harris’ play. His interception total fell to zero, and his PFF grade plummeted from 90.5 to 66.2. We could easily sit here and argue the merits of PFF’s ranking system, or who the true culprit of Harris’ poor play is. Was it Harris himself? Or was it the difficult situation he was in with almost no talent around him?
The reality is his franchise tag is expiring, his demand will be too high, and for what feels like the 100th time since drafting Smith, the Vikings will be looking for a new safety counterpart.
With that in mind, let me introduce you to Pitt safety Paris Ford.
Ford’s physical traits belie his raw skill: He’s only 6’0”, 190 pounds, while the average safety weighs 215. But don’t let his smaller frame fool you. He loves to lay punishing hits on members of the opposing offenses, much like Sendejo did in his time here. Ford is always around the ball, using his superb instincts and anticipation along with his blazing speed to be at the center of every play, and he gives his effort on every down.
The only concern with this facet of Ford’s game is how his hard hits will translate to the modern NFL. The league is becoming increasingly cautious when it comes to their offensive players’ safety, which could seriously affect Ford’s ability to hit opposing players at the next level. He also sometimes goes for the big hit instead of securing the tackle on the ball carrier, which leads him to whiff. However, we have seen many defensive backs and safeties learn how to be better tacklers under Mike Zimmer.
Ford excels in run support. He uses his incredible play-recognition skills in tandem with his blazing speed to reach the ball carrier and put them on the ground. Much like a linebacker, Ford can play from sideline to sideline, covering almost every single blade of grass if needed. He uses his excellent awareness to bring down ball carriers on the edges, often taking their legs out from underneath them. Again, the concern here is that Ford tends to go for the big hit — and always has a potential to whiff. However, in playing with Harrison Smith, I believe he will change how he approaches tackling opposing players.
Ford’s ability to play excellent run defense has no bearing on his pass defense. He showed out in his redshirt sophomore season, recording 14 pass breakups and three interceptions. He was excellent in zone coverage, covering a lot of ground with his speed, disrupting passing lanes, and forcing quarterbacks to squeeze passes into incredibly tight windows.
He is also good at defending contested passes, always playing the ball instead of the man despite his reputation as a physical safety. Pitt often ran zone, but I believe that Ford can cover tight ends and slot wideouts given his speed and height. He can serve as both a safety who can play close to the line while also dropping back deeper in coverage, much like Harrison Smith.
From his hard-hitting to his ability to track men out of the slot, Ford is somewhat of a hybrid between Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo.
Minnesota will be able to sit back and wait to get Ford, who is viewed as a fifth- or sixth-round pick due to his size. Sure, size matters, but it’s not everything; Ford be a value pickup who makes a major impact for the Vikings.