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.
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“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.”