Struggling to slow down opposing running games back in November, the Seattle Seahawks turned to an unlikely source in undrafted rookie Poona Ford to help alleviate the issue during the final month of the season.
After playing only sparingly during the first half of the season, Ford earned his first start against the 49ers in early December and gave the Seahawks a huge lift as a valuable reserve nose tackle. During Seattle’s final six games, including Saturday’s Wild Card loss to Dallas, he finished with 19 tackles and three tackles for loss.
With his first season officially wrapped up, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll intends to give Ford a well-deserved opportunity at a starting gig this offseason.
“Poona had a great finish to the season. Poona is legitimately going to play for starting time when we come back, and he’ll be competing to do that. He warranted it with the activity.”
Though his 5-foot-11 stature is atypical for an NFL defensive tackle, Ford possesses great length for his size, uses his squatty frame to his advantage in the trenches, and consistently disrupts the backfield with his elite quickness for the position. He also started to flash a bit of ability as a pass rusher towards the end of the season, though he didn’t record any sacks.
For most of this season, budding star Jarran Reed and veteran Shamar Stephen served as the starting defensive tackle tandem for the Seahawks. Early on, Ford and Nazair Jones battled for reps behind them, with at least one player listed as a healthy scratch each week.
Reed, who finished with a career-high 10.5 sacks, evolved into one of the best all-around 3-tech defensive tackles in the sport and should be a staple of Seattle’s defense for years to come. Stephen battled foot issues throughout the season, recording 25 tackles and 2.0 sacks in 15 games while playing on a one-year deal signed last March.
Now a free agent once again, Seattle could easily bring Stephen back, as his price point won’t break the bank given his overall production and he played well in stints this year despite being at less than 100 percent.
But there’s no question Seattle defended the run more effectively towards the latter part of the season as Ford continued to earn extended playing time. During the final five regular season games, the Seahawks gave up over 100 rushing yards only once, holding their opponents to under 3.7 yards per carry in four of those games.
Ford’s breakout performance came in Seattle’s second matchup in San Francisco back in Week 15. Though his team wound up losing in overtime, he recorded three tackles for loss, including shooting the gap and blowing up running back Matt Breida for a five-yard loss in overtime.
As a result of his strong finish, Ford earned a 90.3 grade from Pro Football Focus for the season, ranked 10th in the NFL among interior defenders. Motivated to continue proving skeptics wrong after going undrafted, it’s no wonder Carroll envisions his next step as a player potentially becoming a full-time starter in Seattle.
“He’s a baller and it’ll be really tough to keep him down because he’s just such a good football player and it means so much to him and he cares so much about it.”
Much as undrafted talents such as Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse did for the franchise upon their arrival, the Seahawks will be counting on Ford to keep carrying a chip on his shoulder and emerge as a cornerstone for an up-and-coming championship contender.