From Nick Saban’s helicopter to an NFL Draft pick

Running back Jerome Ford was caught off-guard when the Cleveland Browns chose him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday.

“It was definitely kind of a surprise because they got two great running backs already,” Ford said. “But I’m excited to work hard to be the third.”

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Cleveland added Ford even though the Browns have had one of the NFL’s best one-two punches in the ground game over the past two seasons with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. And when injuries affected those players last season, D’Ernest Johnson ran for 245 yards in his two starts and had another 123-yard game.

“We are very happy with our running-back room as it currently stands,” said Max Paulus, a Browns scout, after Cleveland chose Ford on Saturday. “But no different than any other position where we’re always going to be looking to add competition, and I think Jerome is going to do that. I think Jerome is a fast, explosive runner, and we’re always going to be looking to add playmakers and give coach (Kevin) Stefanski pieces to play with on offense, so that’s why we chose Jerome here. …

“I think what Jerome adds to our offense is electric speed, burst, explosion, and we are going to work with him on his kick-return ability on special teams, and so he’s really going to have to work, obviously, with the competition that we have in place. But we think he’s going to be a nice playmaker for us. “

Ford has looked up at well-stacked depth charts previously.

When Ford was a freshman at Alabama in 2018, the Crimson Tide’s top four running backs were Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. The Washington Commanders chose Robinson in the third round of the NFL Draft on Friday night. The other three running backs are already NFL starters. Ford ran for 37 yards on seven carries before being redshirted after four games in 2018.

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In 2019, Ford had 114 yards and three touchdowns on 24 rushing attempts as he ranked behind Harris, Robinson and Keilan Robinson, who has since transferred to Texas.

Cleveland chose Ford despite its talented situation at running back. Ford chose Alabama despite its talented situation at running back.

((Alabama) coach (Nick) Saban, he recruited me pretty good, ”Ford said. “Alabama does a good job of recruiting. Pretty much everything about Alabama is a place where you want to be. I was the only running back taken in my class, the Class of 2018. Coach Saban landed a helicopter on the 50-yard line at my high school. He did a good job of recruiting me, honestly. ”

After the 2019 season, Ford transferred to Cincinnati. In 2021, he ran for 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns on 215 carries and caught 21 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown.

Ford ran into (literally) some of his old teammates when the Bearcats squared off against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31. Ford ran for 77 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 11 yards in Alabama’s 27-6 victory in the CFP semifinal game.

“Jerome had a very productive college career at Cincinnati,” Paulus said. “We’re excited about adding another fast, playmaker to our running-back room. …

“With Jerome, he showed very good acceleration, very good speed. Other things that we can help him improve on are his patience and things that (running-backs coach) Stump (Mitchell) has identified as areas of improvement, and I think that those more technical things, when you identify those areas that he can improve in, then you feel good about ‘Hey, this is a player that we think hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.’ But he’s shown those tools that are critical for a running back to have to have success with. “

Regardless of which team drafted him, Ford said he’s happy to be on an NFL roster for the first time.

“It feels good, honestly, to see your hard work paying off,” Ford said, “and you’re getting to be where you always wanted to be. It’s always been a dream of mine to be in the NFL, so I’m just about here. “

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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @ AMarkG1.

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