On Monday, Las Vegas Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby — coming off of a surprising and impressive 10 sack season as a rookie — was asked about his same class, same position teammate who was drafted many spots higher than him in 2019. What did Crosby have to say about Clelin Ferrell?
“I feel like last year, Cle definitely did some good things ... but I feel like mentally he wasn’t where he needed to be. That’s just me being honest and I’d tell him that too and he knows that. He let too many outside things come into play and he let coaching and certain stuff — overthinking stuff on the field ... Cle’s a technician, he does everything perfect in drills, he makes sure he does everything right. For me, I’m not a guy who is perfect in those drills. Where I lack, he picks up, and it’s the same vice versa.”
The fourth overall pick in 2019 (only six defensive ends in the last decade have gone higher than that depending on your definition of the position), Ferrell played in 15 games and finished with 38 tackles, eight QB hits, eight tackles for a loss, and 4.5 sacks. As I wrote back in March, Crosby and Ferrell both had low Pass Rush Win Rate marks, but were also double-teamed more than most defensive end duos in the NFL: just under 26-percent for Crosby and just under 22-percent for Ferrell.
Guess which defensive tackle was fourth in Pass Rush Win Rate for his position and ninth in double teams: new Las Vegas Raiders interior presence Maliek Collins. In fact, Collins’ double team rate appears to be eight times that of Johnathan Hankins, who was in on 64-percent of the snaps last season. He was shadowed by ex-teammate P.J. Hall, who had 53-percent of the snaps, and now Collins enters with the hope to eat up all those snaps and more with a much higher rate of double-teams to free up Ferrell and Crosby.
Double team rate as a defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate as a defensive tackle (y) for the 2019 regular season.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 30, 2019
PRWR = rate pass rusher beats blocker in 2.5 seconds.
ESPN metrics, NFL Next Gen Stats data. pic.twitter.com/sUCFwARoJi
So there is optimism about Ferrell’s second season just from the presence of Collins and Crosby alone. Those two, as well as additions like Carl Nassib, Cory Littleton, and Nick Kwiatkoski, could provide support necessary to free up one of 2019’s top prospects for more opportunities in year two, so long as his “head” is in the right place, as Crosby alluded to in his Monday presser.
Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Vincent Bonsignore was blowing up a few players for their efforts in the team’s first padded practice this year, including Derek Carr, Henry Ruggs, and Johnathan Abram, but he was also compelled to note Ferrell’s imposing physical presence on the field.
FYI on first day of @Raiders in full pads: @Cle_Missile brought an obvious physical presence. He blew up a couple of run plays and was active and physical throughout— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) August 17, 2020
Ferrell was measured at 6’4, 264 pounds at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, but did not run the 40-yard dash due to a reported toe injury. But his height, weight, and reps on the bench (25) were all similar to 2016 third overall pick Joey Bosa. He also had similar measurements to 2014 first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, though Clowney ran a ridiculous 4.53 40-yard dash, which is .33 faster than Bosa, .28 faster than JJ Watt, and pretty much faster than any other defensive end drafted in the last decade.
However, Clowney’s 3-cone and shuttle times, which Ferrell did run, are remarkably similar. And if we were using Clowney as an example of what could happen with Ferrell, then we’d feel comfortable knowing that patience does sometimes pay off.
Clowney only played in four games as a rookie, totaling zero sacks. In his second season, Clowney played in 13 games and had 4.5 sacks, eight tackles for a loss, and eight QB hits, exactly the same as what Ferrell did as a rookie in 15 games. In year three, Clowney had six sacks and 17 QB hits in 14 games. In year four, Clowney had 9.5 sacks, 21 TFL, and 21 QB hits.
I don’t think Ferrell has to wait that long.
Among rookies picked in the top-8 in the 2010s, Ferrell’s 4.5 sacks ranks behind Aldon Smith (14), Bradley Chubb (12), Joey Bosa (10.5), Nick Bosa (9), Ezekiel Ansah (8), Myles Garrett (7), and DeForest Buckner (6). He is ahead of Khalil Mack (4), Vic Beasley (4), Solomon Thomas (3), Leonard Williams (3), Dion Jordan (2), Tyson Jackson (0) and Clowney.
At least eight of those players saw notable jumps in their sack totals in year two, even including Aldon Smith, who went from 14 to 19.5, and Mack, who went from four to 15. A healthy Garrett went from seven sacks in 11 games to 13.5 sacks in a full season, with 29 QB hits. Beasley went from four sacks to a league-leading 15.5, while Williams saw a more modest but important jump from three sack to seven with the New York Jets, including 11 TFL and 19 QB hits.
Buckner moved inside for the 49ers and while his sacks went down in year two, they jumped up to 12 in year three.
Ferrell isn’t changing positions and he doesn’t need to, all the Raiders are hoping for is the expected growth that soon came to many of those names listed above. Even if player like Smith, Ansah and Beasley struggled for a variety of reasons to repeat and consistently produce the numbers they had early in their careers, a season two spike was quite common and that’s all Las Vegas needs to worry about right now.
What can Clelin Ferrell do in 2020 if he has better players around and does a better job of “being where he needs to be mentally” may be a spectrum that ranges from Beasley to Bosa — and right now the Raiders could use either of that type of player.