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Las Vegas Raiders: What’s the best-case scenario for Clelin Ferrell’s potential role?

Moe Moton

Let’s pretend to forget where the Las Vegas Raiders selected Clelin Ferrell in the 2019 draft and focus on how he can help the defense under new play-caller Patrick Graham. With a new coaching staff, who didn’t invest in him, his draft pedigree isn’t going to help him move up the depth chart.

Obviously, the Raiders have to find out what Ferrell does best in order to put him in a position to produce within a system that’s set to undergo changes. If Graham and the staff go back to the Clemson product’s rookie year, they’ll see that he did a good job with closing on the edge of the strong side on run downs.

Clelin Ferrell started off well with Raiders

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

In 2019, Ferrell recorded 4.5 sacks, 15 pressures and eight tackles for loss through 15 games. He flashed the ability to disrupt plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

In his second campaign, Ferrell missed five games and had a tough battle with COVID-19, which resulted in significant weight loss. He didn’t play in the final three weeks of the term and finished the season on injured reserve. Despite a handful of absences and lower production across most categories, he saw an uptick in pressures (21).

Once the Raiders fired former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and hired Gus Bradley, who reunited with edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue last season, Ferrell fell into a backup role and became a no-name contributor on the roster, playing just 24 percent of the defensive snaps. Even so, he still registered 10 pressures, which is a small sample size, but still a better rate than his first two seasons while on the field for 66 and 64 percent of the defensive snaps.  

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Hope for Clelin Ferrell remains

Ferrell is unlikely to play up to his draft position in the upcoming season, but he’s not a lost cause in the Raiders’ current defensive system.

Graham employs varied fronts, which means you’ll see two, three, four, or maybe five defensive linemen based on the opponent and game situation, which bodes well for Ferrell, who’s primarily played in even-man fronts.

Though Graham has leaned heavily on three big-bodied interior linemen and a pair of outside linebackers rushing the passer off the edge, Ferrell can potentially spell Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby on the outside. He’ll likely rotate with Kyler Fackrell and Malcolm Koonce for snaps in the second unit.

Nevertheless, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur noted that Ferrell “looks leaner” this offseason, which may suggest that he weighs 265-270 pounds. Remember, he bulked up to about 275 pounds before his second season.

Even if Ferrell shed some pounds, that didn’t stop the Raiders from trying to tap into his versatility. According to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he took reps at defensive tackle through spring practices.

“Ferrell was getting a lot of work at defensive tackle, which is a change for him and perhaps a beneficial one,” Bonsignore wrote. “He has one last chance with the Raiders to prove he is part of the long-range future, and maybe the change will do him good.”

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Raiders have several ways to utilize Ferrell’s skillset

With good conditioning, Ferrell could line up in various spots across the front seven. He can rush from a two-point stance as an outside linebacker, move inside as a defensive tackle in sub-packages or play in the bookend role when Graham uses an occasional four-man front.

To play all those roles efficiently, Ferrell should remain in the 270-275-pound range, but his functional strength will allow him to win battles at the line of scrimmage since he isn’t known for his lower-body flexion and ability to bend around the pocket.

With a contract that carries a $10 million cap hit in 2022, Ferrell will probably make the 53-man roster, but his versatility can allow him to play a decent number of snaps on defense as well. With Jones and Crosby entrenched as the starting edge-defenders, Ferrell has to make his presence felt in sub-packages, which underscores the importance of his reps at defensive tackle and defensive end.

Graham prefers bigger bodies up front, though ideally, he should use Ferrell on early downs to supplement the run and sprinkle him in on passing downs between Jones and Crosby on the interior to close out games.  

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.