There’s been no shortage of attention paid to the fistful-plus defensive linemen and edge-rushers who will be selected in the top-10 of this year’s NFL draft. Rightly so—the class is positively choked with players who excel at making opposing quarterbacks unhappy.
But teams picking in the back-half of Round 1 aren’t exactly out of luck, either. In fact, were this class not so loaded, a long, powerful edge-rusher with the potential of Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson might well be selected much earlier.
All Ferguson did in college was become the NCAA’s all-time sack king, racking up 45—including an FBS-leading 17.5 in 2018. But Ferguson wasn’t invited to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine due to an assault charge when he was 18.
However, as Cory Diaz reported for the Monroe News-Star, after the 6’5″, 271-pounder showed off his power and burst, at least one NFL scout isn’t so much concerned about the incident or its impact on Indy.
“I think everybody knew, I don’t think anybody questions what this kid’s all about, what his past is,” the scout said. The league has their rules, do they do what they feel is best. Every team will do their own work and come up with a pretty similar answer which is going to check out. I’m pretty sure across the board, he’s going to be alright. I think he helped himself. He hadn’t done anything at the combine, so he had a clean slate to work from/ I thought he performed well. I think when you talk to the kid, you get a good feel for him in terms his personality, he can communicate, he’s sharp, witty. He seems like a good kid.”
Mind you, this isn’t to say that Ferguson’s a prospect that can compare to the elite edge-men in this class. Per Jon Ledyard, of The Draft Network, Ferguson’s got talent but remains a work in progress.
“Ferguson is a low ceiling, high floor edge defender who would operate best from a 3-point stance in the NFL,” he said. “Ferguson doesn’t have ideal athletic traits, nor will he be a quick winner off the edge in the NFL, but he’s a strong run defender at the point-of-attack and could project to an interior rush role on long/late downs. He shouldn’t be thought of as a coveted prospect, but in the mid-rounds, Ferguson can be a valuable extra rusher and rotational defender for an NFL team.”
Colleague Kyle Crabbs echoed a similar refrain. “Ferguson projects as a 4-3 defensive end at the NFL level,” Crabbs wrote. “At the end of the day, Ferguson has likable traits, but doesn’t know how to use them. Ferguson will need to develop a nuanced set of rush counters, he’s too sloppy and doesn’t show great timing, nor does he set up his opponent. Ferguson, at his peak, can be a starting defensive end in the NFL, but his journey to get there will require strong coaching efforts to pull his potential out.”
Joe Marino was that much more critical, labeling Ferguson a Day 3 pick. “Ferguson is a smart player, that diagnoses plays well and is a stout run defender,” he said. “Expecting him to duplicate or even come close to his collegiate production is far too rich, but Ferguson can play a valuable role in an NFL defense by effectively defending the run and compromising the width of the pocket.”
Ferguson does indeed have his flaws and limitations. But even with taking those into consideration Lance Zierlein of NFL.com has Ferguson has a second-rounder, comparing him to 2018 first-rounder Marcus Davenport of the New Orleans Saints.
“Extremely productive edge defender with an NFL-caliber frame that continues to take shape,” he said. “Ferguson plays with good toughness at the point of attack and became a much more disruptive run defender as the season progressed. He appears to have average athletic traits but benefits from an instinctive pass-rush approach. His pro day was somewhat disappointing and he’ll need to maintain better lean muscle mass. He’ll likely be targeted as an even-front defensive end with potential to become a good NFL starter.”
The thing is, Ferguson’s a terrible bet to make it to Day 3. And not a good bet to be available on Day 2. More mock drafts than not have Ferguson going late in Round 1, with Bucky Brooks of NFL.com going so far as to slot him as high as No. 21 to the Seattle Seahawks.
A fellow can dream.
He doesn’t need either to be of interest to IDP owners—at least not yet.
I’m also not going to sit here and tell you that Ferguson will ever be a top-five fantasy option who terrorizes signal-callers to the tune of a dozen-plus sacks. That’s not a shot at the kid’s upside, either—just an admission ala Ledyard that Ferguson’s ceiling isn’t as high as his floor.
That floor is rather the point.
In watching tape of Ferguson, I see a young Everson Griffen circa 2010 or 2011. Long. Strong. And not quite sure what to do with it. Put him with a coaching staff that can unlock his potential though, and you could have a player who will flirt with 50 stops and 10 or so sacks with enough regularity that the dynasty owners who burn a pick on him later in rookie drafts will be…let’s go with pleased. Highly pleased.
Heck, if the landing spot (say Seattle at 21 or Oakland at 24 or 27) is right Ferguson may be worth a late look in IDP redrafts, too. If you’re going to take a fourth lineman, you might as well go for the one with a real chance at outperforming expectations.
Ferguson’s used to doing just that.