Cardinals find big, fast CB project in Rudy Ford

Apr 29, 2017, 4:41 PM | Updated: Apr 30, 2017, 12:40 pm

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters (15) is tackled by Auburn defensive back Johnathan Ford (23) d...

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters (15) is tackled by Auburn defensive back Johnathan Ford (23) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

TEMPE, Ariz. — For a few moments, it seemed as though the Arizona Cardinals were going to leave the 2017 NFL Draft without choosing a cornerback.

Then Rudy Ford, whom the Cardinals parted with two seventh-round picks, Nos. 221 and 231 overall, to move up and grab in the sixth round at No. 208 overall, said that was the position the team wants him to play.

A safety most of his career at Auburn, Ford is confident he can make the switch back to the position he played as a freshman.

“That’s what I’ve been training as and I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to learn under Patrick Peterson and I got a chance to meet him before the draft started and got a chance to work out with him,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed to have a trainer and a mentor in Rod Hood in my corner.”

Ford, who led Auburn in tackles in 2014 and 2015 with 93 and 118, respectively, saw his numbers drop a bit last year as a senior. He tallied just 59 tackles, but collected seven pass breakups.

Ford attributed the decline to a change in scheme as well as an improved front seven in his senior year, which led to him not being asked to help in run support as much. Instead, he spent more time in coverage, which the statistics indicate.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Ford has good size for the cornerback position. There’s also his speed, as he said he ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.3s at his pro day, said he was hampered by having been recovering from surgery to remove a chipped piece of bone from his foot.

“I’m a 4.2 guy all day long,” he said.

Ford being able to work with Peterson, the team’s star cornerback, and Hood, who played for the Cardinals but was more recently a coaching intern with the team, played a large role in the Cardinals believing in his ability to change positions.

“The fact that playing corner, how has he looked playing corner, and used in corner drills,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s large — he’s a six-foot, 200-pounder — so he can press man-to-man, a guy with that 4.35 speed.

“So yeah, Rod helped a bunch, Pat helped a bunch. When you have that kind of familiarity it’s easy to go trade because you think you know what you’re getting.”

The way Arians sees it, they know Ford, whose given name is Johnathan but goes by a nickname given to him by his uncle, can play safety as well as nickel while also being an excellent gunner on special teams. GM Steve Keim added that covering in the slot can more challenging than defending on the outside, meaning a move out wide may make things even easier for the defensive back.

“If you can play inside at this level, with the way you have to use your eyes and all those sort of things from an anticipation standpoint,” he said. “I just think that the guy has all the necessary skills to potentially do it.

“Now, it’s obviously up to him, but at minimum because of his mentality, his toughness, his passion for the game, I think he’ll be a phenomenal special teamer early on and we’ll see how we can develop him to one position that best suits his skills.”

The Cardinals have some uncertainty at cornerback opposite Peterson, with the only returning experience coming in Justin Bethel and second-year pro Brandon Williams. Neither player solidified themselves as starters last season, though they are the presumed favorites entering 2017.

Ford said he felt like his future in the NFL would be at cornerback because of his skillset and speed, and said it will be “tremendous” being able to focus on just one position going forward.

“I’m ready to play,” he said. “I’m going to train myself to play whatever the Cardinals need me and the organization wants me to play. I know I’m going to come in and help the team in as many ways as they would allow me to.

“I’m just thankful and blessed for my opportunity to play.”

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