Texas football’s Jaylan Ford quietly improving ability to find the ball

Jaylan Ford, Texas Football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Jaylan Ford, Texas Football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Last season, one of the bigger weaknesses for co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Pete Kwiatkowski and the Texas football defense was the lack of effectiveness from the defensive front. Texas struggled at times last season both in terms of generating an effective pass rush and stopping the run.

In fact, PK and the Longhorns allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game and over five yards per carry last season. Texas also was literally the worst team in the Big 12 in 2021 in terms of their ability to generate a pass rush.

According to Football Outsiders, Texas ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 and 117th in the FBS in sack rate (4.3 percent). To make matters worse, Texas ranked 119th in the FBS in standard down sack rate (2.9 percent).

A big reason for the lack of effectiveness for Texas both in terms of stopping the run and rushing the passer was the lack of impact players among the edge rushers and linebackers. The most impactful linebacker and edge rusher that the Longhorns boasted last season was senior DeMarvion Overshown.

Overshown was the only Texas linebacker and/or edge rusher last season to accomplish all of the following:

  • At least two sacks
  • Generate at least one takeaway
  • Pressure rate of 15 percent or better
  • At least five tackles for loss

And meeting those metrics isn’t even setting a very high bar if you take into consideration that we’re looking at an entire team of linebackers/edge rushers.

This is where Texas needs more impactful players along the defensive front to rise to the occasion this fall. And it certainly looks like Texas has an impactful linebacker emerging ahead of the 2022 regular season in junior Jaylan Ford.

In bits and pieces last season, Texas saw Ford become one of the more efficient and impactful linebackers. In fact, Ford led the Longhorns last season in tackles for loss, with six.

Ford was impactful in other areas too, though.

The areas where Ford started to thrive down the stretch last season came with his rapidly-improving ability to find the ball. Down the stretch last season, Ford was effective in terms of stopping the run and finding the ball-carrier with his ranginess and closing speed sideline-to-sideline.

Texas football has a breakout candidate among off-ball LBs in 2022 in Jaylan Ford


In the back half of last season, we saw Ford start making more plays behind the line of scrimmage where he had to track down the ball carrier on pass and run plays. He was particularly adept at diagnosing screens and covering running backs and tight ends out in the flats.

Where Ford improved the most down the stretch last season, though, was his ability to commonly find the ball carrier and stuff the run. In the second half of last season, Ford came up with four tackles for loss and 16 defensive stops on run plays. Both of those numbers were good to rank in the top five among Big 12 linebackers during that span of the 2021 campaign, while leading the Longhorns.

And it wasn’t just Ford’s progression in finding the ball carrier on run plays that saw him thrive as last season moved along. Ford was pretty effective all season long in terms of his run-stopping ability.

Ford ranked fifth in the Big 12 last season in terms of his run stop percentage. He came up with run stops (per PFF, a play on defense that constitutes a “loss” for the offense) on nearly 11 percent of his snaps defending the run last season.

That run stop percentage last season for Ford was nearly double that of the second-best Texas linebacker.

Even more impressive was how cleanly Ford was able to play while being such an efficient run-stopper while playing off-ball linebacker last season. He was one of just two defensive players in the Big 12 last season that was able to register a run stop percentage in the double digits while not being penalized a single time on run plays.

It’s also worth noting that, since 2018, Ford and the former star Texas outside linebacker Joseph Ossai are the only two players at the position for the Longhorns that registered a run stop percentage of at least 10 while posting an average depth of tackle defending the run of no more than 3.5 yards.

Ford sitting in the same realm as probably the best Texas linebacker all-around in the last four or five years in Ossai just goes to show how effective he can be defending the run.

And it looks like Ford’s best football is still out in front of him if what we saw down the stretch last season was any indication. From what we’ve heard coming out of summer workouts and in the early stages of fall camp this offseason, it sounds like Ford is truly ready for a breakout 2022 season.

All in all, it’s hard to overstate how important it will be for Kwiatkowski and the Longhorns to have multiple effective off-ball linebackers this fall. Between Ford, Overshown, and fellow senior Ovie Oghoufo, Texas should have a much more cohesive and effective trio of starting linebackers on most defensive plays this fall compared to last season.

But the real breakout candidate among this group heading into the 2022 season clearly looks to be Ford.

Next. 3 takeaways from Texas' first week of fall practice. dark

Texas finished up last season with a record of 5-7 (3-6 Big 12), missing out on bowl season for the first time since 2016. Ford and the Longhorns are set to open up the 2022 regular season at home on Sep. 3 against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks out of the Sun Belt.