By Adam Aniba
The '23 NFL Draft features a deep cornerback class. One particular CB from the FCS level isn't getting the attention he deserves, after being one of the most productive corners over the last two seasons.
University of Montana's Justin Ford was not only the top FCS corner in '21, but led the nation in one of the most important statistics that NFL evaluators covet.
The Grizzlies cornerback participated in a Q&A session with The Burgundy and Gold Report and looks to be one of the fastest risers, during the draft evaluation process.
6'2" 200 lbs | CB | Montana
Late 2nd-3rd Rd Grade
Career (23 games) 74 TAK (50 solo), 5.5 TFL, 11 INT (3 ret for TDs), 28 PD, 1 FF, 2 FR & 1 FG BLOCK
2022 (13 games) 34 TAK (20 solo), 2 TFL, 2 INT & 5 PD
Ford grew up in Concord, NC and attended Cox Mill HS. The cornerback received little fanfare as an unranked high school prospect and got his feet wet on the JUCO level, playing for Golden West Community College.
Ford played two seasons at Golden West, recording 41 tackles and 3 interceptions during the '17 and '18 seasons. The cornerback was viewed as one of the top junior college prospects in the nation and became a 3-star prospects during the '18 season.
Ford was recruited by Louisville, Auburn, Kentucky, Utah, Iowa State, Colorado, UNLV, BYU, Liberty Kansas and Montana. In the end, the 3-star recruit choose to attend Louisville.
Ford redshirted for Louisville, but never played a game for the Cardinals due to injury. Ford would transfer to Montana for the '20 season, but only played in 2 games. The next season would be a breakout year for the cornerback, who led the nation with 9 interceptions with 3 returned for touchdowns.
Ford recorded an interception in 8 straight games and even recorded a blocked kick for a score vs Montana State in '21, on his was to being named to the FCS All-American team.
In '22 Ford was once again named to the FCS All-America team, after recording 34 total tackles, including 2 for loss, 2 interceptions and a recovered fumble. Ford was rarely targeted by opposing quarterbacks, only giving up 12 completions in his final season for 163 yards.
Q&A with Ford
What contributed to your decision to transfer to Montana from Louisville?
"I transferred from Louisville to the University of Montana due to injury that was preventable. This was before they allowed everyone to go from FBS back to FBS. I decided out of all my FCS offers, to choose the University of Montana, being that I had that offer previously before getting all the power 5 offers. Montana is not only a FCS powerhouse, but a defensive powerhouse and the blue collar mentality fit me perfectly."
During your historical ‘21 season, in which you recorded 9 ints, did you feel like you were in the zone?
"During my historical 2021 season, I was extremely locked on in long film sessions. Sometimes till midnight throughout the week, preparing myself for my next opponent and where they would look to attack me. I had a great offseason training and dedicated every minute of my semester to the game. It showed right away, I definitely think waiting so long to play from covid & Injury just added fuel to the fire. I knew transferring, I would have to be having spectacular performances to get drafted and I took it personal. I did something that’s never been done before with 8 straight games with an interception & 10 straight games with either a interception or a touchdown. That is a record I don’t see being broken for a very long time, it’s all a credit to how hard I was working."
Do you have a preference between playing press man or zone?
"I don’t have a preference on either playing press or off, I believe I'm dominant in both. Press man I think i'm solid technique wise and can win the rep more easily; with off man, I can really play with QB's and WR's, fooling fool them into throwing me the ball. That’s why I enjoy off coverage, its allows more opportunities for interceptions or just production on the ball in general."
What do you feel you excelled at during your time at Montana and what are you working on to improve during the draft process?
"I think I showed two completely different dominant seasons. I had a year of leading the NCAA in interceptions and was tops in the country in pass breakups, and this past season (2022) teams were scared to throw the ball my way, I'm top 5 in the NCAA in coverage percentage. I've shown I can be a productive corner and a shutdown corner. One thing I'm working on now, during the draft process is managing my confidence. Sometimes I can be too confident in my preparation and occasionally it’s better to slow things down, so just learning that."
Do you have a favorite NFL player that you model your game after?
"My favorite NFL player is Matthew Stafford. That might be odd, but he's a true underdog that never complained, just shows up and gets the job done. But the defensive backs I watch are Ramsey, Slay, Derwin (James), Marcus Peters, and Lattimore. I take pieces from all those guys. I don’t really watch many other DB's, only some I think I resemble."
What are you most looking forward to during the draft evaluation process?
"Throughout this draft evaluation, I’m just looking forward to the next day. I don't really do too much worrying, everything is going to go exactly how it’s supposed to. I just put the work in everyday, so I know I did everything I can. I think my tape speaks for itself, along with my character. I look forward to carrying that over to the next level. I'm more than ready for it and can’t wait to hear my name called."
Tale of the Tape
Elite filed awareness with the ability to mirror receiver routes
Aggressive vs the run as a textbook tackler
Fluid backpedal with the ability to drop his hips and redirect with little wasted movement
Thrives in zone coverage and in red zone 50/50 situations
Routinely baits quarterbacks into throwing his way with his ability to read routes and pre-snap recognition
Effectively utilizes his size, strength and length to knock eceivers off their route
Ford has all the makings of a shutdown corner on the next level. His combination of size, speed athleticism and field vision should put him in the discussion as a top 60 NFL prospect.
*Games Watched- 9/10/22 vs South Dakota, 9/24 Portland St., 10/15 vs Idaho, 10/22 vs Sacramento St., 10/29 vs Webber St., 11/19 vs Montana St., 11/26 vs SE Mo St. & 12/3 vs North Dakota St.
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