Selected at 4th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, defensive end Clelin Ferrell has high expectations to meet as the Raiders first selection of the Mike Mayock era. Many fans have become dismayed at the lack of pass rush production Ferrell has posted through his first 4 games as a rookie. Let’s take a look at his all-around game to see what meat is on that bone.
Stopping the run
Ferrell was selected over pass rush artists ostensibly because his profile as a run stopping defensive end was a better fit in Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s system. Ferrell has done a solid job against the run which is a test every rookie defensive end needs to pass in the NFL.
Kansas City is trying to kick Ferrell out with TE Travis Kelce coming across the formation to block him. Ferrell does some really good things on this rep. First he reads the run action and down block by the tackle and instead of coming upfield, he stays flat down the line of scrimmage in order to be in a good place against a run. Next he simultaneously reads the incoming block from Kelce and the path of the ball carrier. Ferrel is able to side-step Kelce and go exactly where the blocking scheme doesn’t want a defender and blow this play up for no gain.
On the front side of a run Ferrell is able to set an edge pretty well. His heavy hands were a trait that put him on NFL radars during his collegiate days and it looks like it has carried over to the NFL. On this run play towards his side, Ferrell gets a kick-out block from a pulling guard. Ferrell is able to maintain good pad level and stop All-Pro Quenton Nelson in his tracks before getting in on this tackle for a loss.
Another trait that set Ferrell apart from others was his hustle to the football. This play against the Vikings at first is a lowlight but Ferrell never gives up on the play and turns it into a highlight. He does a good job of keeping a half man relationship with the offensive tackle but a subtle push from the tight end forces his momentum to go in the opposite direction from the approaching ball carrier. Ferrell’s motor never turns off however and he is able to track down the speedy Dalvin Cook in the open field.
Rushing the passer
This is what the people want. When a defensive linemen is taken in the top 5 of the NFL draft, their career will always be judged by their sack numbers...fair or not. Ferrell is more of a work in progress in this department.
Almost used exclusively as an inside rusher in obvious passing situations, Ferrell had his most impactful game Week 1 against the Broncos. His deployment at 3 technique is likely due to the presence of speed rushers Arden Key, Maxx Crosby, and Benson Mayowa on the roster. Asking a rookie defensive-end to add a role to his plate shows the confidence this coaching staff has in Ferrell as a football player. It also suggests they think he is better suited to rush against guards than he is tackles.
Even when he is lined up on the outside, Ferrell is often asked to stunt inside. This pass rush game with Arden Key is one such example. Ferrell is able to loop inside and get underneath Quenton Nelson’s pads and drive the blocker back into the QB forcing a quick throw. For what it’s worth, Ferrell was the only defensive-lineman able to move Nelson at all in this game.
The only game where Clelin Ferrell was truly asked to rush from the outside was the Indianapolis game. Jacoby Brissett only attempted a handful of deep passes on 3rd down and by my count Ferrell was in a true outside rush on only 3 of those attempts. Ferrell is clearly a powerful athlete but his limitations in flexibility and speed show up on this rep. Perhaps Ferrell can develop into a power rusher who leans on bull-rushes and inside moves but he will need to learn how to threaten the outside before those counters open up.
Ferrell is being asked to 2-gap and stunt inside on gap exchanges from a traditional DE spot on run downs. These techniques have helped the Raiders defense rank in the top 10 against the run. They also hurt Ferrell’s ability to get into his rush on a consistent basis when first down becomes a pass play.
According to Pro Football Focus Ferrell has been able to accrue 7 pressures on 89 rushes. The vast majority of those rushes came from the inside. Aside from the Indianapolis game, Ferrell has not been asked to rush from the outside in 3rd and long situations.
Ferrell’s sack numbers aren’t good and they likely will never be great. If you look back at Paul Guenther’s track record, his edge rushers have never posted elite sack production. At Guenther’s previous stop with the Bengals— DE’s Carlos Dunlop and Michael Johnson each have one double digit sack season in their career in the same scheme Ferrell is being used in right now.