The Raiders are trying to rebound from a disatrous 4-12 season, and need strong showings from many members of their NFL draft class. That's especially true on defense, where general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden loaded up on young talent. Clelin Ferrell was the marquee selection, a defensive end taken fourth overall out of Clemson to fill a position of great need. We'll take a look at the best-case scenario for Ferrell's rookie season, the worst possible outcome and what's realistic for a do-it-all scheme fit expected to play right away. We'll put different Raiders draft pick through the same paces each day, so check back Thursday morning for our Josh Jacobs breakdown. Right now, let's dive into what the Raiders need from Ferrell:
Draft slot:No. 4 overall (First round)
Position: Defensive end
Weight: 264 pounds
Let's say it simply. Ferrell is a complete defensive end. He can set an edge and rush the passer. He's technically sound, tough and tenacious, with strong leadership skill. He may not be as flashy as other top-5 edge rushers of this draft class or any other, but he was a highly productive college player who could well be a highly productive pro despite missing elite measurable athleticism.
Ferrell's exactly what the Raiders need up front, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther puts it, a stable three-down defender who will show up and work hard every day.
Training camp proving ground
Coaches were impressed with his tenacity and a real grinder's work ethic. It's hard to evaluate a new player just learning the system seeing him once a week during open OTA practices, especially when they weren't in pads, so training camp will provide a clearer picture of where Ferrell is as a rookie. It's always difficult to expect an immediate impact from rookies, even those drafted so high, but Ferrell needs to be steady and flash in practice, especially when the L.A. Rams come to Napa on Aug. 7-8. Battles with Kolton Miller and Trent Brown will also be key in his development, when he cracks the first unit. Going up against massive size (Brown) and solid athleticism from a big frame (Miller) in pads should help prepare him for the difficulties of facing NFL tackles each week.
It was hard to find analysts with bad things to say about Ferrell's game. The element of surprise came from his draft position, something he wasn't in charge of. The Raiders are so thin off the edge that they need Ferrell to step in and play three downs right away. They're certainly hoping he's not just occupying space, and can produce at his Clemson level. He had 27 sacks in three seasons as a starter, and getting to nine as a first year player would be huge for the Raiders and his long-term future. Comparing Ferrell to Khalil Mack is ultimately unfair, but they'll come his way nonetheless. Let's not forget that Mack had just four sacks as a rookie, often generating pressure but rarely getting home.
Working nine sacks out of the season would be huge for the Raiders, and double digits with solid run play would send Ferrell jerseys flying off the shelves.
The Raiders need a three-down end. They likely won't have one on the other side, splitting run/pass duties between Josh Mauro and Arden Key, respectively. They need someone capable against the run and pass, a stable and productive force to pick this defensive line up off the mat after a disastrous 2018 season where the Raiders were outmanned regularly during a year with just 13 sacks (as a team!!) and gave up 140 rushing yards per game.
Let's be honest: This defensive line is in huge trouble if Ferrell can't make an immediate impact. That would spell huge trouble for the Raiders defense if he doesn't show well, and lower-round pick Maxx Crosby doesn't make up for that by playing out of his mind.
Ferrell's a rookie. Let's not forget that when evaluating his season this winter. Again, he didn't control his draft slot. He plays for the team that took him, and seven sacks and realtively steady run play is a respectable season. Ferrell's going to work hard every day. He doesn't have a large injury history. He should be reliable. He should get into the backfield; whether he can get home is another matter. Mack didn't do it much his first year. Expect an adjustment period as he moves to the NFL, but his presence should be felt in all facets of this Raiders defense. He seems qualified to shut out noise and outside expectation from being the No. 4 overall pick. That should help him produce a solid, rookie year with hope for better down the line.