Clelin Ferrell was drafted to be a foundational piece for the Raiders and now he's ready to become a cornerstone of the organization.
As the No. 4 overall pick in 2019, the former Clemson Tiger joined the Raiders with lofty expectations, and while there are critics who believe those expectations weren't met, Ferrell did everything that was asked of him last season. Stats are frequently blown out of proportion nowadays with so much emphasis on metrics and analytics, which is why the coaching staff emphasized throughout last season how Ferrell was impacting the defense in more ways than just the stat sheet.
"Cle came in here as a highly drafted guy — I always tell him, 'I don't care how you were drafted, or how you get here, you're now a Raider,'" defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Thursday. "So, however you get here doesn't matter, it's what you do once you get here. Clelin had a lot of snaps last year, outside on first and second down, and we put him inside on some. He's a guy we can move around, he's come back in tremendous shape — he looks like a different guy. He's a lot quicker, he's a lot stronger, so I'm looking for big things from him [this season]."
Through 15 starts, Ferrell sacked opposing quarterbacks four-and-a-half times, swatted five passes at the line of scrimmage, and recorded one fumble recovery. He may have only missed one game due to illness, but he felt the repercussions from it all season. Ferrell weighed in at 260 pounds coming out of college, following his Week 5 illness he dropped 20 pounds, which put him at a severe disadvantage, but it showed him what he needed to do before entering Year Two.
Get an exclusive look at photos from the Raiders practice at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center during 2020 Training Camp.
Since the conclusion of the 2019 season, Ferrell has become bigger, stronger, and faster, setting individual goals for the upcoming year.
"I feel like, for me, I just go back and I always set goals for the offseason, and I set goals for the year," Ferrell explained to reporters Thursday. "My goal for the year kind of drives my goal for the offseason, and that's to always focus on winning the Super Bowl. So, I feel like, in order for us to do that, I have to be ready to do what's asked of me. For me, [I want] to be a cornerstone in this organization and I'm a guy that plays up and down the defensive line. I had to put on a lot of weight and gain a lot of knowledge through the offseason in order to do that."
Guenther mentioned last season that Ferrell was focusing too much on the mental aspect of the game, rather than trusting in his physical gifts, and the 23-year-old defensive end sees that now. Understandably, there's a learning curve all rookies experience, but Ferrell feels confident in what's being asked of him ahead of the Raiders' first game on September 13, and he credits a portion of the confidence he's gained to working with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
"First off, I thank God for putting great people in my life and just the opportunity to learn from someone who's considered a legend in the game," he said. "[Marinelli] doesn't carry himself that way, he still carries himself like he's a young coach dying to make an impact on the league. It's been truly, truly great.
"I really love his teaching because he understands and appreciates that football isn't a scientific thing. It's a game we love to play and you just have to go out there and play hard and play with a disposition. So, I love him, for sure."
The emergence of Maxx Crosby alongside Ferrell was a pleasant surprise last year and the Raiders expect the duo of "Salt N' Pepa" to be a force moving forward. The expectations that burdened Ferrell during his rookie season still exist, but now he has the knowledge and confidence to exceed them.
"Anything that's asked of me, I'm ready to do now and do it at a very high level."