MOBILE, Ala. — When Jaylon Ferguson made his first contact this week with representatives of the Giants he was asked a question that really had more to do with geography than football. How would he feel about playing in New York?
“City life is not really for me, but if I have to go play football there I’ll go play football there,’’ Ferguson said. “It’s all going to be the same. Football field still gonna be green, still gonna have 100 yards.’’
What is not the same is Zachary, Louisiana, and anywhere near where the Giants play football.
“I don’t like the cold weather, but I’ll play anywhere,’’ Ferguson said this week at the Senior Bowl. “I’m not really a cold-weather guy though.’’
It is far too early to tell if there will ever be a connection between Ferguson and the Giants, but what is already known is the Giants need in the upcoming NFL draft what Ferguson has done better than anyone.
Ferguson, a defensive end/outside linebacker from Louisiana Tech, is the NCAA record-holder with 45 career sacks. He picked up the final 2.5 sacks in his final game, in the Hawaii Bowl, to surpass the 44 career sacks Terrell Suggs compiled in his time at Arizona State.
Ferguson finished the season with 17.5 sacks, breaking the single-season record of 14.5 he amassed in 2016.
The Giants spent the past season searching for a consistent pass rush and never found it. Their 30 sacks were tied (with the Patriots, of all teams) for 30th in the NFL, and their team leader, Olivier Vernon, needed a strong finish (2.5 sacks) in the final game, against a backup offensive tackle, to reach seven sacks.
General manager Dave Gettleman said there is a lack of playmakers on defense, and that certainly includes a dearth of pass-rush talent. Other than linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who had four sacks as a rookie, and B.J. Hill, who had 5.5 sacks as an interior lineman, there is not much to frighten or get the attention of opposing quarterbacks.
Ferguson is a 6-foot-5, 262-pound athlete with great production at a lower level of competition, as Conference USA will never be confused with the SEC or the Big Ten.
Some scouts are greatly intrigued, others are not very impressed. It will not be a surprise if Ferguson hears his name called on the second day of the draft, in the second or third round. Perhaps the Giants, if they do not use the No. 6 overall pick on a pass-rusher, would like to get hold of a player who answers to the name “Sack Daddy’’ and calls Khalil Mack of the Bears his favorite player.
“He came from Buffalo in New York, now look at him, big time,’’ Ferguson said. “When he was first coming out of school, people couldn’t tell you where he went to school at. Now I think all eyes will be on small schools when it comes down to pass rushers. Last year with Marcus Davenport at [Texas-San Antonio], he did the same thing, He opened up a lot of doors for me too, and I appreciate him for that.’’
The Giants struck gold with smaller-school pass rushers such as Michael Strahan (Texas Southern) and Osi Umeniora (Troy), both as second-round draft picks. NFL scouts want to see a man-vs.-boys superiority when the small-school player goes against inferior competition. It does help Ferguson that he dominated his matchup this past season against LSU.
“There’s been a lot of obscure schools represented here, I think a lot of these guys have a chip on their shoulders,’’ said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who along with Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers will coach the teams at the Senior Bowl. “They want this. This is the only chance they can get to prove they belong with the big boys.’’
Ferguson and the scouts agree the way he uses his hands is exemplary. He calls it “violent and aggressive hands.’’
What the NFL evaluators want to see this week is Ferguson’s flexibility and his ability to bend his body, skills he needs to improve as he develops.
To his doubters, Ferguson points to the fact no one has ever done what he has done.
“I tell them to tell me two pass rushers the last five years to put up two double-digit sacks seasons,’’ Ferguson said. “I don’t know nobody else.’’
This is a big week for Ferguson, competing against players from Power-Five conferences, meeting with NFL coaches and front-office executives. “I need to show why I got 45 sacks, show my work ethic, show my bend, show my flexibility, show my strength,’’ Ferguson said. “Basically showcase myself and show everything I can do.’’
And prove to them this:
“Once I get my paws on the quarterback,’’ he said, “it’s over.’’