Why the Slide?: Jaylon Ferguson

Why the Slide?: Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech
By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Five years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. Three years ago, we started the Why the Slide? series, and this year it is back. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Of all the all-time great pass-rushers to play in college football, none of them have as many sacks as Ferguson, who set the record with 45 career sacks. In the passing-driven NFL, edge defenders who can get after the quarterback are always in demand, so it made some sense as to why there were media outlets projecting Ferguson to be a first-round pick, including NFL.com.

Ferguson notched six sacks as a freshman to start his way toward history. He then put together a huge 2016 season, racking up 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two passes broken up, 16 tackles for a loss and 49 tackles. In 2017, Ferguson dipped down to seven sacks with 39 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss. NFL sources thought Ferguson should go back to school, which he wisely did. Ferguson was at his best as a senior, totaling 64 tackles with 26 tackles for a loss, 17.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes broken up.

In speaking to team sources, Ferguson slipped well into the third round because he was never graded as high as the media had led many to believe. In late February, WalterFootball.com surveyed NFL teams to see where they were grading Ferguson. Here’s an excerpt from that:

However, sources at eight different teams told me that none of them had Ferguson in the first round, and they all projected Ferguson to be selected on the second day of the draft.

“Probably day two sometime, not super early that day either,” said a NFC national scout in a text message. “But he has size and tons of production, and premium position so someone may reach a little, but I don’t see him going 1, especially in this class.”

One AFC general manager said they had a grade between Rounds 3 and 4 on Ferguson because he is very stiff. A few other teams mentioned that stiffness being a big issue for them. The majority had third-round grades on Ferguson, but a few evaluators said they wouldn’t be surprised if he were chosen in the second round. Thus, it wasn’t surprising to teams when Ferguson ended up going in the third round.

The Ravens ended Ferguson slide in the third round, and that looks like a tough landing spot for him. Ferguson is going to enter a tough competition for playing time across from Matt Judon, and the Ravens have draft picks invested in other young edge rushers like 2017 third-rounder Tim Williams and 2017 second-rounder Tyus Bowser. Ferguson could beat them out, but those two were buried on the depth chart by Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. Williams and Bowser have more experience with time in Baltimore’s playbook, so they have an initial edge on Ferguson. Ferguson could end up turning into a quality player for the Ravens, and they need a pass-rusher of the future to go across from Judon. It is up to Ferguson to earn that spot by beating out Williams, Bowser, and potentially other players to come from the 2020 NFL Draft and free agency.

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