Production, but also questions
What should NFL teams make of college football’s reigning sack king?
That is the question we need to ask about Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech. On one hand, the league has an insatiable hunger for pass rushers and will take chances on unproven players, let alone ones who are consistently productive.
However, it is very unusual for pass rushers who are average-at-best athletes to emerge as elite pass rushers in the NFL.
So what do we make of Ferguson, who was both highly and consistently productive in college, but doesn’t profile as an NFL EDGE rusher? The New York Giants need to improve their pass rush if they want their defense to get to where it needs to be. And if they decide to address the quarterback position in the first round, should they look to a player like Ferguson later in the draft in the hopes that his college production will carry over into the NFL?
Height: 6-foot-4 ⅜ inches
- Impressive play strength. Routinely bullies offensive tackles.
- Long arms and heavy hands let him create leverage and establish control early.
- Strong core keeps blockers from pushing him around.
- Ridiculously productive at LA Tech: 187 total tackles, 67.5 TFL, 45.0 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 7 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries. All-time FBS sack leader.
- Good vision and play awareness.
- Physical with good motor. Plays hard and though the whistle.
- Shows some variety in pass rush moves and plays to his strengths.
- Reliable and disciplined run defender.
- Stiff rusher. Doesn’t show the ability to bend around the edge.
- First step is only average and lacking out of a two-point stance.
- Doesn’t appear to have great athleticism.
- Off-field issue his freshman year.
Numbers to know
Statistics from Dan Pizzuta
- Led NCAA with 17.5 sacks in 2018 and was second with 26 tackles for loss
- Per Sports Info Solutions, Ferguson had 63 pressures, which was fifth among college defenders. However, that only turned into 18 hits, which ranked 45th.
What They’re Saying
“Ferguson is a low ceiling, high floor edge defender who would operate best from a 3-point stance in the NFL. 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.”
— Jon Ledyard (The Draft Network – Scouting Report)
Does He Fit The Giants?
Ferguson does fit the Giants’ defensive front, though it is a question as to how much of a help he would be. As the FBS all-time sack leader, he has gaudy production and obviously has skills to get to the quarterback. However, he doesn’t appear to have the athletic profile of an impact NFL-caliber EDGE player.
For the Giants he profiles better as a defensive lineman, playing the 5-technique on base downs and either 7-technique defensive end or 3-technique defensive tackle on nickel downs. Ferguson might be small to be a traditional 5-technique, but he is a pure bully as a defensive end. He is at his best when he can line up on a three (or four) point stance and bullrush over opposing tackles. In addition to his power, Ferguson shows impressive core strength to keep offensive linemen from knocking him off his rush, as well as a high-revving motor to pursue through the echo of the whistle. He also does show good hand usage, with proper placement to control blockers, as well as a dangerous rip move to get past tackles who are prepared for his bull rush.
Unfortunately, while the Giants do need a second pass rusher to play off Olivier Vernon (assuming he is a Giant in 2019), they could use a speed rusher who truly threatens the edge and can win quickly. Ferguson’s game more closely echoes Vernon, rather than a young Justin Tuck (who was an impressive athlete as well as a powerful rusher).
Ferguson looks slow over any kind of distance, and struggles when forced to redirect and move laterally. However, he does show impressive awareness of the play and is quick to pull up and pursue screen plays while also being disciplined as a run defender.
There is also the matter of the off-field incident which got Ferguson disinvited from the 2019 NFL Combine. A background check revealed that he was involved in a fight outside of a McDonalds as a freshman and was charged with simple assault. As far as we know, he has been a good citizen and teammate in the years since, but the NFL will do its due diligence on the matter.
The Giants did interview Ferguson at the Senior Bowl, so there is at least some level of interest. He could be a good, even great, value if he happens to fall out of the third round, but at this point that seems unlikely.