The board had set up well for the Chiefs as their pick neared in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft on Thursday.
The top-rated quarterbacks had gone high, and thanks to handful of other unforeseen picks, the Chiefs were sitting at No. 23 with two players ― USC receiver Marqise Lee and Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard ― ripe for the taking.
However, the Chiefs didn’t take either skill player, both of whom would give immediate boosts to units that struggled at times last season. Instead they chose Auburn outside linebacker Dee Ford, a move that even left the loquacious pass rusher speechless when the Chiefs staff called to congratulate him.
“I’m very personable, I’m not quiet, I do speak my mind, but I was definitely speechless,” Ford said. “I was so speechless. I honestly don’t even remember the words they said. I think I was passed out.”
Like Lee and Dennard, the 6-foot-2, 252-pound Ford has some durability concerns. But unlike those two, Ford is a pass rusher, which obviously appealed to the sensibilities of Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey, both of whom have shown a first-round predilection toward men who can protect the quarterback and men who can get after the quarterback.
“He has a unique ability to rush the passer, and in today’s National Football League, with the way the game has increased in speed, it gives you another pass-rushing component,” Dorsey said. “Everybody knows when you can rush the passer, it makes the back seven look a little bit better.”
And in Ford, Reid said, the Chiefs are getting a high-energy player who can do just that, someone who can immediately help them get after a quarterback in a division where they’re tasked with facing the likes of Denver’s Peyton Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers twice a year.
“I’m definitely surprised it’s Kansas City, but I’m not surprised (I went in) the first round,” Ford said. “I’m very erratic right now, definitely honored.”
A two-year starter, Ford, who has gained roughly 40 pounds since he arrived at Auburn, was a bona-fide pass-rush terror his senior season, when he missed a few games due to an ACL injury but still racked up 29 tackles, 14 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks in only 11 games.
He also had a dominant performance in Auburn’s 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS championship game, when he had three tackles and two sacks and was a constant pest as a pass rusher.
“He’s healthy now,” Reid said. “He played his best football in the championship game. He was tremendous. And at the Senior Bowl, he was the healthiest he’s ever been.”
Ford, who has 20 1/2 career sacks, didn’t perform at the combine due to a problem stemming from previous back surgery. But during his pro day, he ran a 4.59 50-yard dash, bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times and posted a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump.
While there’s little doubt the Chiefs could use a boost to their pass-rush depth ― the games they played down the stretch last season, where Tamba Hali played hurt and Justin Houston missed due to injury proves as much — it seems likely he won’t be an every-down contributor early on thanks to the presence of Hali and Houston.
“He can mix in with Tamba, Justin, all the rushers,” Reid said. “We’re going to teach him how to play outside linebacker. He’s a little like Tamba was in college.”
Speaking of Hali, common sense would dictate Ford’s pick would appear to be a long-term play protecting themselves from Hali’s age. Hali turns 31 this season, and he has cap numbers totaling $23.5 million the next two seasons. If they cut him after the season, they stand to save $9 million on next year’s cap, according to cap expect Joel Corry.
The plot surrounding the pick also thickened when ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted late Thursday that one of the reasons the Chiefs made the pick is that Hali, who again dealt with injuries down the stretch, is now up to 284 pounds, which is nine more than his listed playing weight in 2013.
Reid, however, dismissed that report with a wave of his hand.
“He’s doing great,” Reid said. “Tamba’s fine. Tamba’s healthy and been in our workouts. Nobody works harder than Tamba.”
But with the selection of Ford, it’s clear the Chiefs feel he and Houston can be a major part of their future ― top-rated receiver and cornerback be darned.
And though Reid admitted the Chiefs did their due diligence in other players, including quarterback Johnny Manziel ― who Cleveland felt strong enough to leap from the Chiefs and go from No. 26 to 22 to land ― Reid and Dorsey, who noted the Chiefs were talking trade with five or six teams, were clearly comfortable with their new pass rusher.
“By then we’d already done the legwork,” Dorsey said. “We knew he would be the pick at the time.”