NFL Draft

Raiders top pick Clelin Ferrell drawing comparisons to star defensive ends

Raiders top pick Clelin Ferrell drawing comparisons to star defensive ends

The Raiders needed major defensive upgrades this offseason, but they needed more than talent. They also sought proper fits.

Paul Guenther’s being allowed to remodel this defense with players the defensive coordinator can see fitting into specific roles, both as starters and accent pieces.

The roles are easily identified even though the Raiders are far from a finished product. They’re another draft or two from that, assuming crops are fruitful, but look back at Cincinnati’s defense in its recent prime for prototypes of what Guenther’s searching for now.

No. 4 overall NFL draft pick Clelin Ferrell’s a player the Raiders believe can plug right into Guenther’s scheme and play extremely well in what we’ll call the Johnson/Dunlap role.

“Clelin is exactly what I’m looking for,” Guenther said last week. "That’s the kind of guys we had. The Michael Johnson’s and the Carlos Dunlap’s we had in Cincinnati that are every-down ends, that are big men that can both rush and play the run. So he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Ferrell should fit as a three-down end that can do most everything well, without a clear liability in his game that might push him into a narrow role. He plays the run and pass well, with a 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame durable enough to perform despite a heavy workload.

Johnson (6-6, 280) and Dunlap (6-6, 280) are even bigger than Ferrell, but long proved capable of slowing the run and rushing the passer. Johnson’s heyday has passed, but brought solid run play and double-digit sacks. Dunlap was more consistent getting to the quarterback, with 72.5 career sacks and seven seasons with at least 7.5.

Former Bengal and new Raiders middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict considers the Ferrell-Johnson/Dunlap comparisons valid and fair.

“Oh yeah,” Burfict said. “He’s a rookie but I swear he’s been here like five years. Doesn’t act like a rookie at all. He comes in ready to handle business, he’s even a leader in the huddle, even just cheering guys up, telling them, ‘Let’s finish the period off.’ And that’s a lot coming from a rookie because when I was a rookie I didn’t want to say much, I just wanted to go out there and do my job, so coming from him and he’s a defensive end and I give him a gap call or whatever type of call I give him, he understands it, so that’s huge.”

Ferrell has made a solid first impression on the Raiders staff as a hard worker picking up the scheme quickly. That must translate into production, and they would happily take a continuation of his Clemson stat line.

He had 27 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss over his three seasons as a starter, with steady pressure off the edge.

Ferrell’s first-year expectations should be high, but temper them for this draft class’ other two defensive ends. Fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby is a top-notch athlete with quickness, tenacity and good push, but must prove himself after playing at small-school Eastern Michigan. Seventh-rounder Quinton Bell, a converted receiver from Prairie View A&M has flashed great speed and burst during OTAs open to the press, but is considered a true developmental prospect.

[RELATED: Paul Guenther sees Raiders' defense progress]

“Maxx looks like a Cadillac coming off the edge,” Guenther said. “He’s long, he’s loose, he’s quick off the ball. I think he’s going to make big jumps here in his first year.

“Bell is a guy who can run. He can chase quarterbacks down from the backside. You can use him as a spinner, rusher type guy. Again, he’s just developing as an end right now. Once we get into the pads we’ll have a good feel for what he can do.”

Wes Welker outlines plans for 49ers rookies Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd

Wes Welker outlines plans for 49ers rookies Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd

Wes Welker has a plan for 49ers rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Welker has been out of the game as a player for three seasons. But after practices in his first offseason as 49ers wide receivers coach, Welker remains on the field to run with Samuel while he goes through essential extra conditioning.

Samuel, who checked in at 5-foot-11, 214 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, has the body of a running back. Welker wants him to have the body of a slot receiver.

“I think he’s a guy that he can play inside or outside,” Welker said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s definitely a bigger body, but he does have good quickness and speed and all those different things.

“Me and him, we keep on talking. If he does want to play in the slot, he’s going to have to lose a few pounds, so that’s something we’re working on now, and he’s working hard to do it. We’re going to keep on harping on him to do that. He’s had a great attitude about just going to keep working on it.”

Welker said Samuel must drop some pounds to enable him to better maneuver his body, change direction and exhibit more short-area quickness from the slot position.

“I love his size and I love his physicality and everything, but we’re still going to want to be able to use him on some of those plays were you really want him to get in and out of those breaks,” Welker said. “The lighter you are when you’re doing that, the better off you’re going to be.”

The 49ers invested two of their top three draft picks in players for Welker to groom. After selecting Samuel of South Carolina with the No. 36 overall pick, the 49ers came back in the third round to choose Baylor wide receiver Jalen Hurd.

Hurd (6-5, 226) played just one college season at wide receiver after playing his first three seasons at Tennessee as a running back, where he was just 440 yards short of becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher. Hurd opted to transfer after the Tennessee coaching staff declined his request to move from running back to wide receiver.

Hurd has not played wide receiver long enough to develop bad habits, but he is severely lacking in experience. He has sat out the team’s offseason program as he recovers from knee surgery in December.

[RELATED: Wes Welker envisions many 49ers receivers fitting in the slot]

“He’s been a little banged up this spring, so it’s been about the mental part for him,” Welker said of Hurd. “He’s missing out on a lot of reps out there right now, and he’s just got to get his body right and then, on top of that, just staying on top of the playbook because he’s not getting all those reps.

“With his size and athleticism of being able to play running back, being able to play wide receiver, being able to do a lot of different things, that’s a great matchup for us. Losing these reps and the different things we want to do with him kind of sets him back. So he’s got a lot of making up to and a lot of work ahead of him to get caught up.”

Jon Gruden 'loved' Kyler Murray, Raiders were never trading for No. 1 pick

Jon Gruden 'loved' Kyler Murray, Raiders were never trading for No. 1 pick

Did Raiders head coach Jon Gruden really consider pulling a control-alt-delete on quarterback Derek Carr to take Kyler Murray in the 2019 NFL Draft?

While Gruden admits he "loved" Murray, the Raiders coach told NBC Sports' Peter King that he never planned on picking the Heisman Trophy winner. 

"That doesn’t mean we were gonna take him" Gruden told King in the writer's latest Football Morning in America. "How do you not love his performance, his playing style, what he accomplished? I had a blast with him [when the Raiders worked him out pre-draft in Dallas]. We didn’t think about going up to number one. We did look at [Nick] Bosa, [Quinnen] Williams, but not going to one." 

Instead, the Raiders stayed at No. 4 and selected former Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell. That was a surprise in its own right, but there was plenty of speculation surrounding the Silver and Black selecting a quarterback early in the draft. 

Despite Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock saying Carr is a "franchise quarterback," rumors swirled about the signal caller's future with the Raiders. The coach and GM did their due diligence on the position, though they say that had nothing to do with Carr's standing in the organization. 

"We did our homework on the quarterbacks. You gotta know who’s coming into the league at that position," Gruden said. "There was a lot of speculation that we were gonna take a quarterback. I kept watching a guy on NFL Network saying we’re going up to get Murray. Then he says we’re going up to get Haskins. Then he says we’re going up to get Lock. We’re trading Carr.

"I don’t understand it."

[RELATED: Carr was 'annoyed' by speculation Raiders would draft QB]

Carr is still a Raider and already is more comfortable in Year 2 of Gruden's offense as he expressed during OTAs. Will the two co-exist for years to come, however?

That's the question that surely won't go away anytime soon.