Clelin Ferrell showing he's exactly who Raiders thought he was early on

Clelin Ferrell showing he's exactly who Raiders thought he was early on

NAPA -- A lot of things come with being a high NFL draft pick. 

There is pressure, expectations and responsibility. 

When you're a top-five draft pick, all of those things are multiplied. 

That's the world Raiders rookie defensive end Clelin Ferrell currently is occupying. Or, rather, should be occupying. 

Through the first week of Raiders training camp, much has been made of Ferrell, and fellow rookies Johnathan Abram, Trayvon Mullen and Josh Jacobs, and how they conduct themselves not like, well, rookies. 

“I would say that Mike Mayock and Jon (Gruden), they’ve done a great job of drafting because these rookies are actually mature," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "I've been around a lot of first-round picks, a lot of rookies and they are not as mature, they don’t work as hard, study as hard and they don’t have that same demeanor and mindset as these rookies, so I look at it where I think they can have big years, great years." 

So, why has Ferrell come in with a different mentality than most rookies? To the Clemson product, the answer is simple: The Raiders didn't call his name so he could have his hand held on the bench. 

"They didn’t bring us in here to be no rookie," Ferrell said. "And I don’t mean it from that sense, I just mean it from rookie can kind of get a connotation of — 'you can sit in the back.' You know, 'wait your turn. You don’t got to step out in front and really show that you want to play.' I consider myself just a first-year player. That’s all that it is.

"But as far as my mindset, I just want to come out and compete and earn everything that we got, and to do that in this defense you got to communicate, be physical, you got to be a guy that wants to set the tone, set the standard and be accountable and do your job." 

Ferrell's job will be to improve a Raiders pass rush that got to the quarterback just 13 times last season, leaving the secondary exposed for far too long. During his four-year career in Death Valley, Ferrell showed the explosiveness, strength and violence the Raiders want in a three-down defensive end. In his final three seasons at Clemson, Ferrell recorded 83 solo tackles, 50 1/2 tackles for loss and 27 sacks while helping anchor a defense that terrorized college football en route to two of the past three national titles. 

The selection of Ferrell at No. 4 overall certainly raised some eyebrows, but early returns are very positive about the young rusher and his ability to make an immediate impact for the Silver and Black. 

"He has good speed and he's strong," left tackle Kolton Miller said. "I think he can hold the edge. I think he'll be an immediate impact on our team."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther echoed those same sentiments. 

"Cle is an every-down end," Guenther said. "He’s exactly what we thought he was."

Early on in camp, Ferrell has shown his quickness and physical hands are just as effective as the pro-level as they were in college. In the Raiders' second non-padded practice, Ferrell beat Miller off the edge a few times, once notching a sack on quarterback Derek Carr, and once forcing him to take off and scramble. 

When the pads were put on, Miller appeared to have the upper hand on Ferrell, but it would be unreasonable to expect the "first-year player" to get the best out of a quality NFL tackle like Miller on every down, especially this early in camp. 

The Raiders' defense was downright abysmal a season ago, there's really no nice way to put it. The bulk of their struggles came from the hole left by the Khalil Mack trade. The defensive line lacked bodies and talent, and Guenther's unit was shredded as a result. 

[RELATED: Conley ready for 'responsibility' as Raiders' top corner]

Ferrell was brought in because he checked all the boxes that Gruden and Mayock believe are important to take the Raiders where they want to go. Ferrell has immense talent at a position of need. He comes from a winning culture. He's smart, he works hard and, most importantly, he has a belief in himself and a plan of attack that suggests he'll meet and possibly even exceed the expectation set for him. 

"I’ve always looked forward to being a complete player," Ferrell said. "I feel like I’m a guy, just from my mentality, I never want to come off the field. Because I want to be the guy that teammates say, ‘I want him on the field with me. I want to be in the trenches with that guy. I want that guy beside me when it’s fourth-and-1 on the goal line and we need to stop them from getting in the end zone.’ It’s just a mindset."

As Carr said early in camp, it's might be too early to know if Ferrell can play football, but the early returns have been impressive. Ferrell, to this point, is exactly who the Raiders thought he would be. 

Raiders QB Derek Carr's campaign beginning to look a lot like 2016


Raiders QB Derek Carr's campaign beginning to look a lot like 2016

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr hasn’t thrown an interception in nearly a month. The Raiders quarterback hasn’t lost a fumble in that same span, since the ball slipped from his grasp and through the end zone that fateful day in Green Bay.

That’s a run of three-plus games heading into Sunday’s showdown with winless Cincinnati, when the Raiders hope to continue their rise up the AFC standings.

That ascent as coincided with some efficient, steady, clutch quarterback play. Carr has completed 64 percent of his passes for 795 yards, six touchdowns no picks and a whopping 8.6 yards per pass attempt over that span.

This run includes a close loss to Houston that wasn’t Carr’s bad, and victories over Detroit and the L.A. Chargers where he orchestrated late touchdown drives.

He is escaping pressure with his feet, avoiding negative plays and throwing accurate short and intermediate passes that have turned into chunk yards.

“I think it’s comfort within the system and I know we’ve said that,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “It still is only his second year in the system and I think [Head] Coach [Jon] Gruden would agree he’s gotten better, and if you can just kind of focus on the improvement within the system, not worrying necessarily about the results and certainly we know we’re judged on wins and losses, but in his mind just continue to grow from within the system and be the best Derek Carr that you can be and that will be good enough for us.”

Comfort within an offensive system, experience working with a play caller, hasn’t happened much in Carr’s career.

He has had a second season with an offensive play caller only twice in his six seasons. It happened in 2016 with Bill Musgrave, and it’s happening right now with Jon Gruden.

Doubt you need a reminder of how 2016 went but here’s a refresher: The Raiders went 12-4 and Carr received six MVP votes despite breaking his ankle in Week 16.

That season is starting to look an awful lot like this one.

If it’s numbers you’re into: 2016: 357-for-560 (63.8 comp %), 3,937 yards, 28 TDs, 6 INTs (1.1 INT%), 7.0 ypa, 96.7 passer rating

2019 (projected over 16 games): 353-for-499 (70.7 comp. %), 3,914, 24 TDs (1.4 INT%), 7.8 ypa, 104.4 passer rating

That’s pretty darn comparable. Carr isn’t getting the same positive press as 2016 because the Raiders aren’t winning nearly as often – the 2016 Raiders were 7-2 through nine games – and Josh Jacobs has become the team’s offensive star.

Carr is carrying this team well, being smart with the football and again proving competent in clutch moments big and small. He has three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter thus far He has the NFL’s highest passer rating on third down, the most passing touchdowns on third down and the NFL’s highest red zone completion percentage.

Carr’s play has help this Raiders offense find a solid rhythm. The offensive line is the unit’s driving force, performing well in the run game and in pass protection. Jacobs has been excellent. Darren Waller’s a breakout star and the receivers have steadily improved after an in-season position group remodel.

That has established a level of confidence currently growing as the team stacks wins. The unit believes it will execute well late, even if it doesn’t early, giving the Raiders poise to establish leads early and steal them down the stretch.

“They all believe in one another from position group to position group, and certainly, they believe in Derek Carr,” Olson said. “That makes it easier.”

Raiders' Jon Gruden should be NFL's Coach of the Year, says Brett Favre


Raiders' Jon Gruden should be NFL's Coach of the Year, says Brett Favre

Jon Gruden and the Raiders have been a surprise in 2019.

After navigating through the Antonio Brown debacle and being the stars of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” many expected Oakland to simply treat this season as a rebuilding year before packing things up and moving the organization’s operations to Las Vegas.

But thanks to uber-talented rookie running back Josh Jacobs and an opportunistic defense, the Raiders are 5-4 and right in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt.

Former Super Bowl champion quarterback Brett Favre has been blown away by the job Gruden has done through just two seasons at the helm of the Silver and Black.

“If I had to pick a coach of the year right now, it would be Jon Gruden,” Favre said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I think he’s done a tremendous job.”

[RELATED: What clicked for Raiders' Ferrell during signature game]

Favre joined the Packers in 1992 after being traded from the Atlanta Falcons, the same year Gruden was hired to be an offensive assistant on Green Bay’s staff.

If the Raiders continue to win games and find themselves in the postseason, he’ll be right in the mix for the NFL Coach of the Year.