The Las Vegas Raiders selected Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell fourth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. At the time, this was hard to believe. Many pundits used the word ‘reach’. However, general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden leaned on the Clemson standout’s productivity and pedigree. After a rocky rookie season that included injuries and playing out of his natural position of edge, ‘Cle’ seemed healthy and determined to show what he was truly capable of in his second NFL campaign.
The best ability is availability
In the 2019 season, the Raiders called upon Ferrell’s versatility along the defensive line. Due to a lack of interior pass rush, he lined up at the defensive tackle spot in passing downs. Despite missing two games due to illness and essentially playing catch up from there, ’96’ never complained.
Ferrell was more physically prepared in 2020 from a weight and leverage standpoint. Nevertheless, injuries and illness struck again. A battle with COVID would cost Ferrell time followed by a shoulder injury that would effectively end his season early. It’s difficult to build and maintain consistency when you can’t stay on the field.
No one’s blaming Ferrell for contracting a virus during a pandemic when playing football could be questioned within itself. Also, nobody is saying ’96’ is injury prone either. Unfortunately, he is a top 4 pick that was looked as the replacement for Khalil Mack. Unfair or not, ‘the Cle Missile’ needs to show what he’s got over the span of a full season.
Sacks were hard to come by, but the pressure was there
Ferrell came into the NFL with what supporters viewed as a complete toolkit. Not only could he set the edge in the run game, but he could also get after the quarterback. After logging 4.5 sacks in his rookie year, he dedicated his offseason to preparing himself to silence the doubters. If Instagram training videos earned players on-field accolades, he would be up for DPOY right now. Alas, once actual football began, Ferrell made little to no impression until a two-sack, two-forced fumble performance against the lowly New York Jets.
However, that would be a totally misguided notion. Sure the sack totals weren’t eye-popping, but to ignore the pressure Ferrell was able to provide all year long would do him a disservice. Check the footage. You can find ’96’ in the backfield collapsing the pocket in most games. A prime example of this is the Raiders’ first match up against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In a game that signaled an albeit premature return to relevance for the Silver and Black, Ferrell racked up nine pressures, collapsing the pocket and forcing quarterback Patrick Mahomes into the sight of waiting spies like Nicholas Morrow and Maxx Crosby. Ferrell finished the season with 30 total pressures. A full training camp and preseason will help turn those pressures and hurries into sacks.
The Raiders missed Ferrell’s presence against the run
Say what you will about a lack of sack numbers. However, when it comes to deterring the run and setting an edge, the options for the Raiders begin and end with Ferrell. This is not to say Clelin gives running back derrick Henry nightmares about future matchups. What you can say is when ’96’ is on the field, running backs have a much tougher time reaching the second level.
The Raiders had a slight shift in linebacker philosophy this season, employing more of the modern-day coverage savvy types as opposed to the thumpers of yesteryear. This was a much-needed shift in process, but it requires your front four to remain disciplined in their gaps and stout at the point of attack. More often than not the Raiders did the opposite of this and the numbers finally began to show this as the season played out. Issues were only compounded anytime Ferrell missed time, as the alternatives were less than appetizing.
Arden Key is a pure rusher, as much as you can be a pure rusher while not tallying even a single sack. When Carl Nassib wasn’t giving whiteboard finance courses in the D-Line room, he was busy drumming up accusations of stealing guaranteed money from the Las Vegas Raiders due to poor return on investment (or ROI for the finance savvy readers out there).
’96’ was sorely missed not just for his pressures, but his ability to present glimpses of that very same skill set the Raiders coveted with the fourth overall pick in 2019. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will hopefully help Ferrell continue to unlock his potential in 2021.
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