Len Ford – Defensive End
Len Ford made it as a defensive lineman. But if his career had gone differently, he just as easily might have also gotten into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an offensive skill player.
When Ford broke into the pros in the late 1940s, two-platoon football was still very common to help accommodate smaller rosters. As such, in his first two seasons in 1948 and 1949 with the Los Angeles Dons, rivals of the Browns in the All-America Football Conference, he played today's equivalent of tight end as well as handling defensive end.
He excelled on offense, serving as one of the top pass catchers in the league, with 31 receptions for 598 yards (an impressive 19.3 yards-per-catch average) and seven touchdowns, tying him for the AAFC lead, in 1948. He recorded 36 catches for 577 yards (16.0) and one TD in 1949.
But when the AAFC dissolved and the Browns moved into the NFL in 1950, he became part of a team with a number of outstanding pass catchers, such as Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli, Mac Speedie and Dub Jones. So with teams moving from the platoon system, the Browns put Ford at defensive end and left him there. It couldn't have turned out better for both him and the team. With an offense filled with Hall of Famers and other great players, the Browns had no problems scoring points at that time. All they needed was to keep opponents from doing the same. They did a good job of that in the AAFC, but they turned it up a notch in their first two years in the NFL. In 1950, they allowed just 144 points, 27 fewer than the year before and the fewest since giving up only 137 in their inaugural season on 1946. The Browns kept five regular-season foes in single-digits scoring. It was more of the same in 1951, as they surrendered just 152 points and recorded four shutouts, a team record for NFL play. Though he was plagued by injuries in 1950, Ford, a big (6-foot-4 and 2245 pounds), strong player who also possessed some speed from his pass catching days, played a big role in what the Browns did in those two seasons and throughout his time with the club. He teamed initially with middle guard Bill Willis, the only other Browns defensive player in the Hall of Fame, to give the team a dominating five-man front against both the run and pass. The result was that the Browns showed that their dominance of the AAFC – they won all four league titles – was no fluke. They captured NFL championships in 1950, 1954 and 1955 and advanced to the league title game from 1951-53 and then again in 1957, Ford's final year with the team.
– Steve King