Clelin Ferrell

Raiders' Maxx Crosby proves an NFL draft steal with 10-sack rookie season

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Raiders' Maxx Crosby proves an NFL draft steal with 10-sack rookie season

Maxx Crosby took Drew Lock down twice in the Raiders' regular-season finale. He split the first sack with Johnathan Hankins and claimed the second as his own. He flung the Broncos quarterback to the ground and forced a fumble in the process, with Clelin Ferrell recovering to give the Raiders a chance to erase a deficit.

The Silver and Black weren’t able to complete a comeback and lost 16-15 that day in Denver, but those plays illustrate the profound impact Crosby had on the Raiders this season.

They also hit a milestone, giving Crosby 10 sacks on the season.

“You know, that to me is a jaw-dropping number not a lot of people know about,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I mean, he had 10 sacks as a rookie.”

That’s a massive number for a fourth-round NFL draft pick from a small school you’ve never heard of scheduled to be a situational pass rusher. Crosby thrived in a full-time role earned in Week 4 and sustained is throughout an excellent season.

He finished with 46 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He was a solid edge run defender and proved a prolific pass rusher with an always-revving motor. Crosby had 10 sacks, five quarterback hits and 29 hurries. He won on 6.4 percent of his pressures as a rookie, a number that improved as the season wore on. His rookie sack total was second only to Josh Allen.

Those numbers vaulted Crosby into the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. That award’s going to 49ers rookie Nick Bosa and deservedly so, but that shouldn’t discount Crosby’s season or the Raiders’ excellent return on investment for a fourth-round pick.

[RELATED: Clelin Ferrell vows to return to Raiders 'completely different player']

Crosby’s progress was slowed by a broken hand in the preseason, but he quickly found his way and made significant progress on the job.

“I think I’ve taken strides,” Crosby said. “The main thing is mentally being confident and trusting my technique and trusting coaches. That allows you to play 100 miles per hour. That takes time, and I feel like I finally started to get in a groove.

Crosby hit a groove around midseason, where the pressures were more consistent. That ramped the entire Raiders pass rush up a notch, especially during a three-game winning streak that pushed the Silver and Black into serious playoff contention. His best game came in Week 11, when he had eight pressures, including four sacks, against the Cincinnati Bengals. That capped a run of at least seven pressures in three of four games and showed how impactful he could be.

Fellow rookie edge rusher Clelin Ferrell had a monster game in that mix, and those two leaned on each other during good times just as they had in early-season struggles.

“I’ve seen growth in Maxx,” Ferrell said. “We keep each other grounded. We’ve been through the ups and downs and everything people have said about us, and he has always kept a level head through this whole entire thing. That’s the biggest thing, and I feel like I aid into that. If I’m having a bad day, he keeps my spirits high. If he’s having a bad day, I keep his spirits high. We both know that, at the end of the day, we need to get it done together. Me and Maxx, we’re the future.”

[RELATED: How Tua's draft decision impacts Raiders]

Crosby wasn’t content with his huge rookie season, knowing there’s better ahead for him and the entire Raiders defensive line.

“We’re off to a good start, but we have tons of room to grow,” Crosby said. “It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to [with a playoff spot], but we’re going to keep working hard and get one.”

Clelin Ferrell vows to return to Raiders 'completely different player'

Clelin Ferrell vows to return to Raiders 'completely different player'

ALAMEDA – Clelin Ferrell likes to go fishing. In real life and on the football field. 

That's why the Raiders defensive end celebrates a sack as if he has hooked a prize catch and is reeling it right in. 

The Clemson product caught a ton in college, but probably not enough in his first year as a pro. The No. 4 overall pick was a quality run defender but didn't do enough as a pass rusher to honor the draft slot's sky-high expectations. 

The defensive end’s first NFL campaign wasn't bad by any stretch. It was, as head coach Jon Gruden said Monday, only so-so. There were good moments. There were times where his impact was hard to find on the stat sheet or otherwise. There’s context behind all of that fans often ignore when assessing the first-round NFL draft pick.

Ferrell’s a smart guy, mature beyond his years and always armed with great perspective. He’s never going to sugarcoat it. He also never stops trying to get better.

“It was a large learning experience that was mainly a lot of fun," Ferrell said. "There were ups and downs, good times and bad times, but the main thing was learning to push through obstacles during the entire season. That was something I enjoyed learning how to do, and it showed me I need to grow up in a few areas.”

He’ll use this rookie season as the foundation upon which he hopes to build a skyscraper.

“I’m excited for the offseason because when I come back, it’s going to be [as] a completely different player,” Ferrell said. “You probably won’t even recognize me. Seriously. I’m excited.”

The Clemson product has a checklist of things to improve and work on during his first professional offseason, where new pros normally make the largest jump. While he didn’t detail the to-do list, it surely isn’t about beating Nick Bosa’s stats or out-doing Josh Allen. Ferrell and his coaches are focus on improving his unique skill set and becoming the complete, steady three-down defensive end the Raiders need him to be.

“It’s about building on everything,” Ferrell said. “I know what I have to work on. I talked to the coaches. I know what I have to improve on. I also want to get guys around to buy into that mindset, too. I hope guys on the team understand that the group of guys we have is special. Our future is bright. If we work out together, we should come back a whole different breed.”

Gruden believes narrowing Ferrell's focus should improve results overall.

“I think he played pretty well,” Gruden said. “I think he had [4.5] sacks, recovered a fumble [vs. Denver in the season finale], batted down some balls, played good against the run.

“We asked him to do way too much early in this season. We had him playing inside quite a bit. … He didn’t do a lot of that at Clemson. So, I think next year when he becomes more of a full-time defensive end acclimated to the scheme better, I think he’ll show even more and more improvement.”

Gruden’s right. Ferrell was asked to play inside a great deal early in the 2019 season after playing the edge almost exclusively in college. That expanded role may have taken Ferrell out of his element just as he was trying to get used to the pro game.

The Raiders started keeping him outside right about when he got sick in London. I mean, really sick. Like, carry a barf bag around sick. That kept him out in Week 5 versus Chicago and took 15 pounds off his frame.

“I had never missed a game due to an illness, but that was terrible,” Ferrell said. “I was going to try to play through it. I thought rest would do it, but it really sat me down. That was tough because it didn’t just affect me for that game. It stuck with me for upcoming games because I lost so much weight. It was a test and a learning experience for sure.”

Ferrell hopes to take everything learned from his rookie year and make a greater impact during his sophomore campaign. His run play’s already good, but the Raiders need more from him as a pass rusher after a year with 4.5 sacks and just 26 total pressures.

[RELATED: Raiders center Hudson makes AP NFL All-Pro Second Team]

Ferrell knows that and has vowed to improve. Team success is his lone value metric, and he believes this defensive line can be dominant and help win more games in the near future.

“Yes, we did better and we improved over last year, but it still wasn’t good enough,” Ferrell said. “As a defensive line, we made significant strides in sacks and run defense. We were better but are nowhere close to our potential. I hope that guys see that. I’m going to be sure that guys see that we have to get better and take it to the league next year.”

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should have eyes on Florida's Jabari Zuniga

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NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should have eyes on Florida's Jabari Zuniga

The Raiders' season and their time in Oakland ended Sunday with a 16-15 loss to the Denver Broncos. With that L, Jon Gruden and the Raiders must turn their attention to the 2020 NFL Draft and the impending move to Las Vegas

As Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock begin their evaluation of the current players on the roster, the Silver and Black have a few glaring needs that must be addressed either in free agency or in the draft. LInebacker, wide receiver, edge rusher and the secondary all need help. We'll get to the quarterback issue a little later. 

Since Gruden won't be busy scheming for the playoffs this week, he should watch No. 9 Florida and No. 24 Virginia battle in the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl on Monday night for a player that should be high on his draft board: Florida edge rusher Jabari Zuniga. 

Maxx Crosby was a steal in the fourth round a season ago. Crosby became the first rookie since Joey Bosa to finish the season with 10-plus sacks and 15-plus tackles for loss. 

The Raiders could find another later round steal in Zuniga. Zuniga has been mocked everywhere from the middle of the first round to the third round, but he has the pass-rushing skills to help the Raiders upfront. At 6-foot-4, 246 pounds, Zuniga has the prototypical size and strength for an NFL edge rusher. He will need to clean up his inconsistency getting off the ball, but that has gotten better during his senior season at Florida. When he times the snap right he is a load to handle on the edge. 

He's got a powerful, quick first step and has strong hands that have stunned tackles at the collegiate level. He also has impressive lateral quickness and a long wingspan which makes him a valuable run defender who can impact ball carriers even without bringing them down. 

Zuniga still is growing as a rusher and could flourish with the help of Raiders defensive line coach Brenston Buckner.

It wouldn't be surprising for the Raiders to reach and take Zuniga at No. 19 overall or trade back up into the second round to add him to their pass-rush mix.

Crosby had a solid rookie season and Clelin Ferrell showed flashes of why he was the No. 4 overall pick. I'd expect the Raiders to keep Dion Jordan around as he was impressive since coming on board in the middle of the season. 

[RELATED: Adding more Clemson blood could fuel Raiders rise]

Adding Zuniga would give the Raiders another versatile defensive end who can rush from inside and out and help stop the run. 

I know Gruden will like what he sees from No. 92 on Monday in Miami.