The biggest need on the Raiders roster heading into the draft was at defensive end. Mike Mayock didn’t wait long to add one by making former Clemson team captain Clelin Ferrell the 4th overall pick.
Ferrell not only fits on this team as a positional need, but from a maturity and work ethic standpoint that Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock covet. Lauded with praise by Clemson coaches and teammates for his leadership and character, Ferrell embodies the toughness and effort that gives him a chance to live up to the 4th overall pick.
Don’t get caught up in pick value too much, after Nick Bosa was off the board, Ferrell was the next best true 4-3 defensive end. The other highly edge rushers on the board were better fits for a 3-4 defense the main difference being in base personnel 4-3 defensive ends have a bigger responsibility against the run but we’ll get into that later. Ferrell fits the Raiders defense as a power rusher, who excels against the run, and has a motor that never stops.
This is the part of Ferrell’s game that everyone wants to know about so we’ll look at it first. Ferrell is a heavy handed rusher with a few moves in his arsenal. He is pro-ready and can make an impact as a week 1 starter.
This play above against Texas A&M is out of a base defense look. Ferrell reads the run action at first and gets his hands on the tackle in case the running back gets the ball. When he realizes it won’t be a run, he uses that hand placement to extend away from the tackle and flatten his rush angle allowing him to get home on this sack.
Again vs Texas A&M, Ferrell shows he is a quick mental processor. He explodes out of his stance and recognizes the jump-set from the left tackle. This is a technique where blockers will try to stymie a rusher before he gets any momentum going upfield. Ferrell reacts in an instant and swipes the blockers hands away for an inside counter and collects another sack.
More than just inside counters, Ferrell has the ability to stunt inside as well. Inside stunts can be difficult for bigger defensive ends to execute because getting home usually relies on compact footwork and an understanding of the right angle to take. We see Ferrell in the clip above take 4 steps upfield, selling the outside rush before making a nifty move inside. He finishes with power and a low pad level against the center who comes to help and is able to grab ahold of the QB before he gets the ball off.
Never mind outside or inside moves, Ferrell can also win by going straight through a blocker. In this clip from the National Championship game against first round tackle Jonah Williams, Ferrell uses his explosive first step to force Williams to open his hips in preparation for speed rush. Ferrell converts his speed to power and drives directly down the center of the blocker in front of him, knocking him backwards and casting him aside to get this sack.
There is a slight limitation in Ferrell’s pass rush repertoire however. Against straight drop-back concepts where a tackle is able to take a vertical-set Ferrell has shown a limited ability to consistently corner and bend around the edge. We see Ferrell use a long arm to strike the blocker in the clip above against Notre Dame but then he takes too many steps before executing another move to disengage, ending up 10 yards in the backfield. The best pass rushers have the bend that makes this arc much shorter. Ferrell no doubt can improve in this area, and even if he doesn’t he is still a 6-8 sack per year guy in the NFL.
The main difference between a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker is their responsibilities against the run in base personnel. A 4-3 defensive end will usually have the gap immediately inside of their technique open, which means they need to control the man in front of them and squeeze that inside gap down against the run. A 3-4 outside linebacker will usually have a 6’5 300lb man in the gap immediately inside of him, which makes squeezing the blocker down less of a priority. Paul Guenther’s scheme needs a true 4-3 defensive end against the run and Ferrell fits this profile.
Ferrell uses his great get-off to explode into the backfield and blow up this power run concept against Texas A&M. The guard from the opposite side should block him but because Ferrell gets to his spot so quickly, the guard never has a chance.
With that gap immediately inside of him open, Ferrell has the flexibility to make a move inside when the opportunity presents itself. Ferrell keeps his eyes in the backfield to diagnose the developing run play while simultaneously striking and feeling the blocker in front of him. He is able to shock and shed the tackle and get into the B gap to make this run stop without ever looking at him.
This example showcases a 2-gap technique against outside run. Ferrell’s heavy hands pay dividends here and he is able to extend, giving himself enough room to work either outside or inside depending on where the runner goes. This 2 gap technique is something a 4-3 defensive end must be able to execute in today’s NFL, but a 3-4 Outside linebacker may never be asked to do this. Plays like this are why Ferrell was so highly rated on the Raiders board.
Sometimes the difference between a big play and a stop is an individual effort from a defender. Ferrell doesn’t take any plays off and hustles all around the field. This is something that sets good players apart from great players on film and speaks to their attitude and character.
Ferrell didn’t test at the NFL scouting combine which led some prognosticators to surmise he lacked athleticism. Sure maybe he doesn’t run a 4.5 40 yard dash, but he has enough speed to get after this run play and track down the ball carrier. A defensive end who chases down runners in the open field is welcome on this Raiders team.
Again, Ferrell chases down a play that many defensive ends might have simply just given up on. The Clemson edge rusher reads the screen and attempts to bat down the pass, when that doesn’t work, he reverses field and hustles to make the tackle. This is a championship effort from Ferrell and gives him a great chance to earn his 4th overall pick status and become a fan favorite.
Hustle plays will also turn into sacks at times for Ferrell. This is a great example of the things Ferrell does well. His get-off once again beats every other Clemson defensive linemen off the ball, he uses a rip move to get around the corner forcing the quarterback to step up in the pocket. And when at first he doesn’t succeed, he continues his relentless pursuit of the quarterback and gets this sack against new Giants first round pick Daniel Jones.
A perfect scheme fit and leadership fit on this team. Ferrell embodies the toughness and physicality required for a first round pick. He has been described as a “low maintenance superstar” by his former head coach Dabo Swinney at Clemson. Ferrell’s game is a perfect complement to the opposite defensive end in Arden Key who is more of speed rusher. The two could end up being excellent book ends at edge rusher who can together potentially make up for the loss of Khalil Mack. There is a better chance than not that Ferrell will pan out and be an impact player. More than his on field production, the leadership qualities he brings should benefit this defense for years to come.