Despite productivity that was the best in college football, Jaylon Ferguson remains an under-the-radar prospect in this week’s NFL Draft.
The New York Giants, picking at No. 17, might stand to benefit from this.
Ferguson had 45 career sacks in four years at Louisiana Tech, the most in FBS history. In addition, his 17.5 sacks last year as a redshirt senior were the most in the nation.
But despite this production, including six tackles and a sack in a game against LSU and five tackles and two sacks against Mississippi State last year, Ferguson won’t be the top edge rusher off the board. The all-time FBS leader in sacks won’t be a top-10 pick.
The production is there, he says, to back him up as a first-round pick. Most mock drafts have him going anywhere from the middle to the end of the first round. That could put him in a prime spot to join the Giants.
“I did the same thing in 2015, I put up 14.5 sacks,” Ferguson told me. “Ever since I’ve been playing football, every year leading up to this, I’ve been on top. Now, people are just beginning to notice. I have confidence. I will do what I need to do. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
In all likelihood, at least half a dozen other edge rushers will be taken before Ferguson goes off the board. A lot of it stems from the fact that Ferguson played at Louisiana Tech and not for a ‘Power Five’ program.
Tech wasn’t his biggest offer coming out of high school. He had several scholarships from the SEC and the ACC. But the program was simply the best fit for him, both on and off the field.
The decision to bypass bigger programs in more prestigious conferences was the right one, Ferguson says, “because it felt like home.”
“[Louisiana Tech] reminded me of my hometown,” Ferguson continued. “There’s a lot of good people. A program that was built the right way. At the end of the day, I’m a small town kid who went to a small town college and ended up making some noise.”
There is still plenty of intrigue over Ferguson despite coming from a smaller program. Over the span of 20 days at the start of April, Ferguson had 16 visits with NFL teams. It was a whirlwind schedule that included a visit last week with the Giants.
He labeled it a “great visit” with the Giants, despite his flight being cancelled and experiencing long weather-related delays at Newark Airport.
There is a possibility that the Giants, who need an edge rusher, could take Ferguson at No. 17 with what is their second pick in the first round. He’d fit a need and might be the best available player at that point in the first round.
Ironically in that scenario, Ferguson would be going to an organization where Michael Strahan set the single-season sack record in 2001. Ferguson, the FBS all-time leader in sacks, said it would be a high standard to live up to.
And that infamous 22.5 sacks in a single season set by Strahan is something Ferguson wants to pursue, even as he acknowledges the difficulty in the chase.
“It’s a big goal,” Ferguson said of the sack record. “It is something I look forward to doing, to going after. When you’re in the NFL, everyone wants to do it. It’s different when you play for a team where somebody was prolific at doing it.”
Were he drafted by the Giants, Ferguson likely wouldn’t play as a defensive end, but rather he would stand-up and play linebacker. He told me that he prefers to have his hand on the ground, but he’s open to the switch if it means he can get on the field and contribute right away.
A 3-4 linebacker is a rather nuanced position that has many similarities with being a defensive end in a conventional 4-3 defense.
“In the NFL, a 3-4 has commitment to drop back in coverage as well as the rush,” Ferguson said. “I’m always looking at ways to push myself and up my game.”