The first big shock of the 2019 draft came when the Raiders made the top pass rusher in the two-time National Championship Clemson Tigers their selection at 4th overall. It was the collective gasp heard round the world. After all, mock drafts said Ferrell was going to be taken at least ten spots lower and below several other pass rushers.
While I had the Raiders doing exactly as Mike Mayock said they would’ve liked to have done — that is trade down inside the top ten and select Ferrell there — all the heads exploding at the pick seemed a bit much. I wondered if those who knew Ferrell best felt that way. So, I asked him.
I spoke with Ryan Kantor of SB Nation Clemson blog Shakin the Southland and tossed five questions at him about Ferrell.
1. One of the stranger things I saw during this draft process was how Clelin Ferrell kept dropping down on the mock drafts. Do you have any ideas why that was?
I’m not sure. Sometimes I think folks overthink these analyses. He worked Jonah Williams (11th pick, Bengals) in the National Championship game and his stock was really high. Perhaps they recognized their recency bias and overcorrected.
I was seeing him behind Brian Burns (16th pick, Carolina) in a lot of mock drafts. There’s a ton of projecting on upside relying on qualitative scouting rather than collegiate production and analytics for the draft, so it is hard to really get your mind around it.
2. How stunned were you that Ferrell was selected at 4th overall? Honestly, do you think that was higher than he should have gone?
Like you, I had seen the mock drafts that had him between #13 and #22 and I was thinking he would likely go to the Dolphins at #13 or the Panthers at #16. I was up in Nashville for this year’s draft and we were shocked, but elated, to hear his name.
One thing that struck me was just how heavily some teams pick based on team need rather than best available. This is most obvious at QB (e.g., Daniel Jones), but it was striking to see picks like OL Chris Lindstrom to the Falcons at #14 while more highly sought after guys like DE Brian Burns, DT Dexter Lawrence, and DT Jeffrey Simmons were available.
I thought Ferrell was the best DE available at #4 and if that’s the position they decided they were going to take then I think it was the best possible pick.
I really like Ed Oliver, but he is a DT so maybe they were set on taking an end since they need to improve their pass rush. There was also a lot of talk from Gruden and Maylock about culture and drafting a bunch of kids from winning programs like Clemson and Alabama is wise if that’s a focus.
3. I have heard the criticism of Ferrell that he has no bend. I didn’t find that to be accurate when I watched his tape before the draft. Do you think that criticism is justified in any way?
It made no sense to me until I dug a little further. It seems to be purely based on combine results. I’m not sure how much those matter if he plays with a high-level of athleticism. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about an All-American who produced at a high-level against elite collegiate competition because he had a pedestrian three-cone drill time. You certainly won’t hear this criticism from anyone who coached him or coached against him in college, that’s for sure!
4. What would you say is Ferrell’s biggest strengths?
Both of Clemson’s DEs did a really good job of setting the edge this year. Teams often abandoned the run against Clemson. Both Ferrell and DE Austin Bryant (Lions, 4th Round) show good discipline in that regard. Ferrell obviously has a great pass rush as he collected 11.5 sacks. He also posted 20.5 TFL.
On top of the production, at 6’5” 260 lbs he has the measurables you want. He is a good pass rusher, but not as much the pure speed rusher like Vic Beasley who is a good bit smaller.
He is extremely well-spoken, demonstrated senior leadership throughout a turbulent 15-0 season that saw a mid-season QB change, and never got in trouble during his time at Clemson. He can deliver on the Raiders’ ask to bring leadership and help build a winning culture for the franchise.
5. What are his biggest weaknesses?
As for weaknesses, I think it is just on the athletic projections based on those combine results. He may have less theoretical athletic upside. It’s also a fair concern to wonder how he would perform without strong DTs in the middle preventing the offense from focusing on him.
I answered some of his questions as well. See those here.