Jaylon Ferguson is the FBS all-time sack leader. Everyone knows that. However, Ravens fans are still relatively unfamiliar with Ferguson at this point in time. Ferguson has only played 13% of the Ravens defensive snaps so far, although he was inactive for the first two weeks.
Week 4 Defense Snaps. B Williams out = huge blow to the run D & meant Pierce playing unsustainable number of snaps. Lack of trust in young pass rush, particularly T Williams, means McPhee & Judon are being run into the ground. Canady looks to have overtaken Averett #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/CUGSXqVrcr— RavensViz (@RavensViz) September 30, 2019
In the wake of the flurry of defensive roster adjustment following a morbidly disappointing effort against the Cleveland Browns, Ferguson has shot up the depth chart. Pernell McPhee and Matt Judon have rarely come off the field. Pernell McPhee’s 83% usage is too high for a player of his style, age and injury history. McPhee has played extremely well, however he would be more efficiently used in the 65% snap range.
Judon is a hell of an athlete, but also needs to be able to take breathers. Following Ricky Seals-Jones 58-yard gain, Judon was noticeably sluggish on a Nick Chubb 14-yard scamper resulting in a touchdown. The Ravens simply haven’t trusted any other outside linebackers to get a bite of the lion’s share defensively. That sentiment has changed, according to HC John Harbaugh.
Coach Harbaugh pleased with what he saw from Jaylon Ferguson last week: pic.twitter.com/1Eg6Uxxorl— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 4, 2019
John Harbaugh said Jaylon Ferguson "will get more snaps" Sunday against the Steelers. After waiving Tim Williams, the #Ravens are looking to the third-round rookie pass rusher to take on a heavier load.— Aaron Kasinitz (@AaronKazreports) October 4, 2019
Ferguson has only played 30 snaps so far, making analysis on his current body of work overkill. I’ve grinded quite a bit of tape on Ferguson during the pre-draft process and had a late first/early second round grade on “Sack Daddy”. He’s a power rusher, who loves to bull, and can convert speed to power well for his size (6’5”, 270 pounds). Ferguson also had a nice balanced two point stance, where he can generate momentum, but has a nice wide base to help him keep his balance. He has powerful hands and good knee bend, which allows him to get up and under the pads of opposing lineman to drive them back.
Speed to power means rushing wide at the snap of the ball and tricking an offensive lineman into thinking that you want to run around them, then attacking them will a bull rush. When a tackle starts to move laterally to defend the ‘arc’ pass rushers then attack their chest plate to drive them back and collapse them into the pocket. To convert speed to power, you must have a little bit of speed, which Ferguson does.
No. 45 had a historically bad three cone drill at his pro day, but I vouch that Ferguson has more agility than given credit for. He was able to ‘dip’ successfully and flatten out once getting around offensive lineman. Some dudes are gamers, some are combine studs and the cream of the crop are both. Ferguson wasn’t a combine stud.
He’s more refined than most gave him credit for as a rusher. Ferguson also has good play recognition to seal the edge and hold down the fort against the run. His goal line play was also stellar at LT, where he would routinely line up outside of the C gap, then shoot down two gaps to pummel ball carries through the A gap.
Where Ferguson will need time is play recognition and efficiency. Being able to recognize opponents tendencies based on personnel, situation and formation is something that usually takes a ton of in game experience. Most players don’t ever even truly scratch the surface in that department. It’s the difference between recognizing quick throws and trying to clog passing windows and swat passes versus expecting a five step drop and running the arc.
Allowing the third-round pick to get that experience now is wise. Harbaugh’s vote of confidence shows that the Ravens trust “Sack Daddy”. Ferguson playing well is pivotal, as the Ravens are only rostering four outside linebackers. Experience that he gains in October will pay off tenfold in November and December as the Ravens surge for their inevitable ‘win and you’re in’ situation towards the end of the year.
In crucial third down situations, if the Ravens put Tyus Bowser, Judon, McPhee and Ferguson on the field together with one interior defensive lineman, they will win more one-on-one situations and create pressure. No interior defensive lineman possesses the ability to win individual matchups frequently, although Michael Pierce has been effectively pushing the pocket at times. Tyus Bowser appears much more comfortable and capable on the weak side, so I would expect to see Ferguson on the strong side if the younger duo spells the starters.
Go get ‘em, Sack Daddy.