The Oakland Raiders picked Clemson defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell fourth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Ferrell ahead of the draft:
Back when I first started watching film so I could do Christian Wilkins’ breakdown was when Clelin Ferrell initially started to piss me off.
See, when I do film evaluations I try really hard to zone in on the player I’m going to write about. Here I was, minding my own business, just trying to put my complete focus on Wilkins, when, out of the blue, this Ferrell guy keeps constantly showing up and distracting me ... by making big plays.
Look, man, I don’t watch much college football during the season these days, and once draft season comes around I try to avoid reading what other people are saying about the top prospects so as to not be swayed by somebody else’s opinion of them. So most of the guys I do break down are completely new to me.
[Draft grades? Draft grades! Grades for the 2019 NFL Draft first round]
It’s not that easy to avoid information about most of Clemson’s top players, however. After all, they just won a Natty, and they have been in the national championship picture quite a bit over the last decade. It’s only natural that more chatter about their players makes it into my orbit than, say, praise for a center for NC State.
For instance, I had definitely heard of Wilkins before I started working on his breakdown. But somehow Ferrell, or No. 99 as I referred to him at first, had totally flown under my radar until I started watching Wilkins’ tape.
Because I was trying to stay focused on Wilkins so I could finish his evaluation in a timely fashion, I still wasn’t quite sure what to make of No. 99. Maybe he was benefiting from the talent around him and just scavenging those big plays?
Or maybe he was actually the real deal?
I made both a mental and an actual written note (because my memory is iffy and I really didn’t want to forget) to circle back to No. 99 at some point.
Then last week I’ll be damned if the same thing didn’t happen while I was trying to break down another highly rated defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence. I had some familiarity with Lawrence as well, but part of that had to do with his suspension during the College Football Playoff for flunking a drug test. Some folks have Lawrence with a first-round grade (I do not), but it was No. 99 who clearly stole the show — again.
It was at that point that I decided to do a breakdown on No. 99 as soon as possible so I could take my time and thoroughly investigate just what his deal was. As it happens, I was also asked about Ferrell on Twitter right after I made that decision and that was the first time I learned his name. If I needed another sign that I should check this kid out, that was it.
Well, the verdict is in folks, and yeah, Mr. Ferrell is official!
It is entirely possible that the rest of the world has Ferrell rated as highly as I now think he should be and I just missed the buzz around him because I haven’t been in the loop this spring. However, it still seems like I should have heard about this guy a lot more even in passing than the not much at all that I have heard about him up till now.
My goodness is Ferrell a nice edge rush prospect.
I’m talking, he has just about everything you could possibly ask for.
He has good size at 6’4 and over 260 pounds with arms that are just longer than 34 inches. His get-off was also outstanding. Ferrell was consistently the first guy off the ball on a defensive line that was stacked with talent.
Ferrell played with good technique as well. He was great with his hands, especially when escaping off blocks as a pass rusher.
Even though he was tall, Ferrell showed he could bend when need be, too. He played with good pad level on a regular basis, which helped him when taking on blocks and also when changing directions.
His functional strength was good, if not outstanding on tape. He wasn’t much of a straight-up bull rush guy, but Ferrell had some nice long-arm moves for his power rushes.
Ferrell even already has a signature pass-rush move. His club/swat, arm-over inside move looked damn near unblockable at times in the four games I watched.
He was surgical and savage with that move, too. And once he got past the offensive tackle it was trouble, trouble *Bernie Mac voice.*
While Ferrell was cold-blooded with his inside move, don’t get it twisted. He could win around the edge, too.
I seent it!
As a matter of fact, Ferrell won a bunch of one-on-one matchups, in a wide variety of ways in that four-game stretch. Hell, some of his best pass rushes didn’t even show up on the stat sheet, but they were still very impressive, nonetheless.
Seriously, why isn’t Ferrell getting more buzz?
Another thing I liked about how Ferrell rushed the passer was that he understood that you can’t keep running if you feel yourself getting past the level of the quarterback. Sometimes you have to when you have already committed to a speed rush, but when possible it’s usually better to retrace your steps when you get just beyond the level of the quarterback so you can get back in on trying to pressure him.
That is something a lot of young pass rushers “get” in college, and they end up wasting pass-rush opportunities running around five yards deeper than the quarterback.
I was really struck while watching his film at the contrast between Ferrell and another edge rush prospect, Rashan Gary. I just evaluated Gary a couple of weeks ago, and in terms of the hype I have noticed around them versus their actual film, something just isn’t adding up to me.
I swear to lawd, I’m not trying to take a shot at Gary, but his film showed a guy who not only didn’t get a ton of sacks or pressures, he didn’t even win many one-on-one matchups period in the four games of his that I watched.
Then you have Ferrell, who ended up with five sacks and nine pressures in four games, plus several other pass-rush plays where he beat the blocker clean. Yet it definitely seems like Gary is the one getting more first-round buzz of the two players.
I just don’t get it.
Ferrell is just a helluva prospect from top to bottom.
Mind you, I’ve only talked about Ferrell’s potential as a pass rusher so far. I was actually impressed with Ferrell’s game overall.
As a run defender he used his hands well, and he usually got full extension with his arms to keep blockers up off of him.
His lateral quickness showed up a lot when he was playing the run, too. Whether he was stunting inside or just taking advantage of a tackle that was a little too aggressive, Ferrell was able to slip by blockers to make plays on a fairly regular basis.
Ferrell also didn’t mind blowing plays up and taking out blockers so that his teammates could be the ones to make the tackle. That’s the kind of unselfishness that you hope to see from your players as a coach.
Oh, and you know what made him even more likable to me? I bet you can guess. That’s right, folks: Ferrell hauls ass to the ball as well. I mean this dude gets his Forrest Gump on!
One time I saw him drop back and cover the tight end until they went off the screen in one direction, as the opposing quarterback took off on a scramble in the opposite direction. I’m watching the quarterback pick up, 10, 15, 20 yards, then boom — all of a sudden here comes Ferrell popping back into the screen to run him out of bounds.
That is what you call a winning effort right there! I absolutely loved Ferrell’s motor and the way he flew around the field.
Speaking of dropping back, I thought Ferrell also looked relatively comfortable in coverage, too. He didn’t drop back a whole lot in those four games, but when he did, he was able to hold up pretty well.
Me, personally, I’d want him rushing the quarterback more than trying to cover a tight end, but at least teams should be able to see that he can cover if they want, or need him to.
He even has a good feel for running pass-rush games. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but I see NFL defensive linemen who run terrible pass-rush games every damn fall and it makes me sick.
When they are done right, however (see the Patriots these past playoffs), pass-rush games can pay huge dividends for a defense in general and a defensive line in particular. Having a guy who already knows how to run them well means once less thing you have to teach him once he is on your team.
Of course Ferrell isn’t perfect. No prospect ever is.
I am concerned that he may be a little too reliant on his inside move early on in his career. It looks great when it works, but when it doesn’t, you allow the quarterback to get outside of you and break containment, and that usually puts the defense at a big disadvantage.
That is especially true in this new era where almost everybody has a mobile quarterback. You let Russell Wilson or Patrick Mahomes break containment on you and they will bust your ass. Ferrell will have to make sure he picks his spots when he breaks out that inside move, and when he goes in there he has to make sure he doesn’t lose containment at the least.
I also have some questions about how comfortable Ferrell is playing on the left edge of a defense. As the right edge rusher, he always looked very fluid and natural with his movements. Coming from the left side, however, he just seemed to be a little more rigid and stiff trying to turn the corner.
He still made plays from the left side, but he played the overwhelming majority of the time on the right side. If it were me, that is probably where I’d try to have him line up the overwhelming majority of the time in the pros, if possible. At least until he shows he is as comfortable rushing from the left side just as well.
If he goes to a defense where they expect the edge rushers to flip depending on the situation, pass rushing from the left could be an issue for Ferrell early on. Maybe not a big issue, but that remains to be seen.
I will say that Clemson kicked Ferrell inside a few times on third-and-long and I thought he handled himself really well in there. He even did a good job of playing the run as a three-technique on one of those plays.
Maybe not from day one, but I could definitely see a scenario where Ferrell could get a few pass rushes a game from an interior alignment eventually. That is certainly a plus when it comes to his draft stock.
There should be zero doubts about Ferrell producing in the NFL.
The more I saw of Ferrell, the more convinced I became that he absolutely has first-round talent. He is just too good of a pass rusher for me to be able to imagine 32 teams passing him up. I don’t know about his off-the-field situation or anything like that, but on the field Ferrell is a beast without a doubt.
He can fit in as a base 3-4 edge rusher, or a base 4-3 defensive end. He should be ready to start right away, but even if he just works in as a situational pass rusher at first, I believe Ferrell is going to be a big contributor this season and for every season thereafter, barring injury.
Because of his ability to rush the passer I can see Ferrell putting up the kind of sack numbers that will have him at least in the Pro Bowl conversation by his third season, too.
I would still rank Josh Allen and Montez Sweat higher than him on my board, but Clelin Ferrell isn’t that far off from those guys, to be honest. I would fully expect to hear his name called on the first night of the draft just like theirs will be, too. It will be interesting to see which out of those three ends up having the most impactful career.
I wouldn’t bet against Ferrell just yet, that’s for sure.
For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell play against Texas A&M, Boston College, Pitt, and Notre Dame. Those represented the second, 10th, 13th, and 14th games on Clemson’s schedule last season, respectively.