Jaylon Ferguson & Betting On Outliers

by Logan Levy

For most players making the leap to the NFL, the process leading up to draft weekend is nothing short of a 4-month long interview where you're competing against friends, teammates, and acquaintances at All-Star Games, the NFL Combine, Pro Days and Official Team Visits. Each team might value pieces of the process differently but one piece that all teams are looking to extract along the way is the athletic testing numbers for each player. Not all athletic tests matter for each position, but in theory, they do strip away programs and awards and put everyone on an even playing field. This is an opportunity to spot outliers, both good and bad, and for small school stars to shine and dispell any preconceived notions that may be out there pertaining to that player.

Edge prospect, Jaylon Ferguson showed up at Louisiana Tech's Pro Day on Tuesday afternoon with lots to prove after a battery charge disqualified him from participating in athletic testing at the NFL Combine a few weeks back. All 32 NFL teams were in attendance to finally see how the FBS NCAA all-time career sack leader would test and perform in drills. To put it lightly Ferguson's performance was a mixed review.

Ferguson weighed in at 271lbs, which was fifteen more than he did at the Senior Bowl back in January. Relative to his size, Ferguson's 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and bench press showed enough explosion and strength. Where the train really went off the track was Ferguson's agility drills. Per the Mockdraftable database, Ferguson's Short Shuttle and 3-Cone times would have been the slowest recorded in the entire database for an edge defender. An 8.08 3-Cone is typically a time you would see from a 330lb run-stuffing nose tackle.

NFL Network's Patrick Claybon was at Louisiana Tech's Pro Day and was able to shed some light on the struggles that Ferguson was having. The turf could have caused some issues but it's clear that Ferguson is lacking the flexibility, balance, and bend to really shine in a drill like this which is important to note because it's a drill that highlights a players ability to change direction, maneuver in tight space like they would need to on the way to find the Quarterback.

Does this show up on film? Is it a death knell for his shot as a pass rusher at the next level?

Below are a few pass rush reps from Ferguson's matchups vs LSU and Mississippi State.


In the video, there are five plays of Jaylon Ferguson generating pressure and/or registering a sack vs top competition but it's how he's doing it that we'll want to take note of. Ferguson displays quick, violent hands with a consistent strike point and is able to beat offensive lineman with power moves and hand usage. He does not consistently beat lineman to the edge and relies on speed-to-power moves. 

While there is more to Ferguson’s game than the two sentences above, the main takeaway is that he does not win with explosiveness nor does he flash quick twitch traits, which matches up with his testing. And that's the biggest problem with projecting him to the NFL. The best pass rushers are elite athletes who often turn into elite technicians with time. 

No one can match Ferguson's college production but when you add in that he's an average athlete with some seemingly fatal testing flaws, who doesn't have a true trump card it's tough to envision him warranting that late round 1 or round 2 pick that many pegged him as just a month ago. Ferguson is still a quality football player but if you're taking him that high you'd be betting on an outlier.

For the sake of projecting what Ferguson could turn into down the road, Baltimore Ravens Matt Judon poses an interesting comparison. Similar to Ferguson, Judon had crazy production in college as he was the NCAA sack leader in his final season as a Laker with 21. Judon also finished as the school’s all-time sack leader with 35 throughout his entire collegiate career. However, leading up to the 2016 NFL draft, many were concerned about how Judon’s skillset would translate given the lower level of competition he has faced.

By solely comparing Judon’s measurables and athleticism testing to Ferguson, they have similar scores up and down the board. While Judon’s still edges Ferguson by a decent bit in the agility drills his 7.67 3-cone time is in the sixth percentile. Despite his supreme production, his athletic testing could have certainly played a role in his fifth-round selection. Since being drafted to the Ravens, Judon has been a key rotational player and starter. He has started 20 games in three seasons and compiled 19 total sacks. Judon is not an elite edge rusher but he has played an important role in Baltimore’s fierce defense.

All 32 teams had their eyes set on Jaylon Ferguson on Tuesday and all left having another piece of the puzzle to Ferguson's NFL evaluation. It's too early to tell how much this may impact his draft stock but if it does negatively impact him it'll just be another opportunity for him to overcome the odds. Not many thought he'd be the NCAA career sack leader a few years ago either.