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2019 NFL Draft profile: Jaylon Ferguson fits well with Lions, brings much needed pass rush help

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Get to know one of the more underrated edge rushing prospects in the draft.

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Louisiana Tech vs Hawaii Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports

There are no shortages of names when it comes to this year’s class of edge rushers, which is great news for the Detroit Lions who are looking to improve upon their shoddy pass rush unit. One name that would be a nice fit for the Lions, and a name that will continue to garner some buzz as we approach the Senior Bowl, is Louisiana Tech edge rusher, Jaylon Ferguson.

Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech

6-foot-4 3/8, 256 pounds

2015 stats: 12 games | 22 solo tackles | 35 total | 15 TFL | 6 sacks | 1 PD | 2 FF
2016 stats: 14 games | 27 solo tackles | 49 total | 14 TFL | 14.5 sacks | 2 PD | 3 FF
2017 stats: 11 games | 25 solo tackles | 38 total | 12.5 TFL | 7 sacks
2018 stats: 13 games | 38 solo tackles | 65 total | 26 TFL | 17.5 sacks | 3 PD | 2 FF

Current draft projection: Day 2 (second or third round)

Background

Team profile page

A three-star recruit out of Saint Francisville, Louisiana, Ferguson received many collegiate offers including Mississippi State and several smaller schools. After deciding to return for his senior year with the Bulldogs, Ferguson became the first member of his family to graduate from college.

“It was tough (to turn down entering the NFL Draft), but I felt like it was the best thing for me, and the best thing for the Bulldogs,” Ferguson said this offseason. “Over these last four years I’ve accomplished a lot but we’re still chasing that conference championship. I feel like we got the right tools right now. We’re together enough, experienced enough to come in this year and dominate the conference and hopefully come out with a conference championship.”

The Bulldogs didn’t end up winning the conference championship, but 2018 was a pivotal year for Ferguson. He would go on to set an NCAA Division I record with 45 sacks and looked much improved from his junior year.

Strengths

  • Ideal size and length for a base 4-3 end, but also has the ability to line up in a 2-point stance.
  • Hand usage is elite; shows great grip strength. Has a variety of moves he wins with (push-pull, club-rip, club-over and more).
  • Displayed improved burst and explosiveness from 2017 to 2018. More aggressiveness and attacking mentality in 2018 and it showed up in the stat sheet.
  • Converts speed to power, gets low and drives OTs deep into the pocket consistently.
  • Disciplined as a run defender; able to hold his ground and control the point of attack. Disengages in a timely fashion and is constantly making plays in the backfield.
  • Quick mental processing as a pass rusher and as a run defender. Finds the ball quickly; punishes OTs for overcommitting.
  • Good athleticism relative to his size.

Weaknesses

  • Bend and flexibility to me is underrated, but not exactly a strength for him. Struggles to turn the corner even with slight contact on the edge.
  • Occasional lapses in awareness; bites hard at times on misdirections and play-fakes.
  • Testing will be important. Some believe he is an average-to-below-average athlete.
  • First step is just decent. Not going to blow you away off the snap.
  • Could use some extra work on his counter moves. Is aware of his speed-to-power and likes to counter off of it, but not always successful.

Games watched: 2016 vs. WKU, 2017 vs. SMU, 2018 vs. FAU, 2018 vs. Mississippi State

Overview and Projection

Now is the time to get familiar with Jaylon Ferguson as we approach the Senior Bowl. I expect Ferguson to dominate practices and prove his worth against top competition. I also wouldn’t be surprised if his stock continues to rise into the early second round, possibly even higher. If he tests better than expected, then the sky is the limit for him.

Ferguson is technically sound and disciplined as a run defender, but it’s been his numbers as a pass rusher that has earned him national attention. His play strength and elite hand usage allowed him to dominate weaker competition, but showed no struggle against Power-5 schools and was just as impressive, if not more impressive against a couple of the best OTs in the country.

For the Lions, I’d expect Ferguson to be high on their board as he fits well in the down DE role, much like Ziggy Ansah and Romeo Okwara, but has the versatility to line up in a 2-point stance if needed. His success as a run defender will likely intrigue Lions coaches who stress stopping the run and he would bring some much needed help as a pass rusher. If he’s there when the Lions are picking at any point on Day 2 of the draft, I’d expect the Lions to seriously consider Ferguson and believe he’d be a perfect fit for Patricia’s scheme.