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September 20, 2019

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Clelin Ferrell’s standard? Be another Khalil Mack for the Raiders


Darron Cummings / AP

Clemson defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Indianapolis.

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Congratulations, Clelin Ferrell. Now go out and be another Khalil Mack.

That won't be the company line emanating from the Raiders' facility at Harbor Bay Parkway. But as sure as opposing quarterbacks came out of Oakland games with clean jerseys in 2018, that's how fans will judge the selection of the Clemson defensive end Thursday night with the fourth pick in the NFL draft.

Nobody knows how this will turn out. Take a draft, any draft, and the eventual reality often is dramatically different from the pre-draft assessment of the top prospects.

It's not like Ferrill arrives as a 6-foot-5, 265-pound stiff. The guy won the Ted Hendricks award as the nation's top defensive end, which should mean something around these parts. He was a standout on a national championship team.

Still, most everyone had Ferrill (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) projected as a pick in the No. 20 range. If other teams felt that way, that means the Raiders possibly could have landed Ferrill at No. 24 or No. 27. Pick a guide, any guide, and Ferrell came in behind Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), Brian Burns (Florida State) and Rashan Gary (Michigan).

Judging Ferrell is made more difficult by the fact that Clemson had five combine-worthy defensive linemen. Did Ferrell make them better or did they make Ferrell look good?

When the Raiders' pick arrived at No. 4, after Kyler Murray (Arizona), Bosa (49ers) and Quinnen Williams (New York Jets) were off the board, the feeling here was the Raiders would either take Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver or trade back for additional picks. But Gruden and Mayock clearly believe they know something you don't know, and it resulted in the highest pick spent by the Raiders on a defensive lineman since Darrell Russell went No. 2 in 1997.

Mack came in at No. 5, when Reggie McKenzie waited patiently as Jadaveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles and Sammy Watkins went off the board. Chances are Gruden and Mayock weren't nearly as nervous as McKenzie was, based on the way Ferrell was critiqued by the masses.

Ferrell had 19 1/2 tackles for losses and 11 1/2 sacks for Clemson as a junior, and he checks off the boxes in terms of the kind of character and love for football whch Gruden and Mayock believe is essential. The youngest of nine children, Ferrell's father passed away when he was 13 and was a Vietnam war veteran. Ferrell's mother served in Desert Storm.

"My dad was kind of the one that kept everybody together," Ferrell told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. "My mom had to take on the role of being the father figure. It was kind of hard on me my dad was kind of the one that kept everybody together. For me, my mom had to take on that role of being the father figure. It was kind of hard on me because my dad had done it for 13 years and I wasn't used to having my mom try to teach me what my dad was going to teach me.

"I was a little rebellious at first. I was young ... I was really in a headwind. I was so naive at the time. But my mom did such a great job and that's something I could never take for granted with her. She really became my rock after that."

Scouting reports indicate Ferrell doesn't have the power of Mack, the quick twitch of Mack or the bend of Mack around the edge. But let's face it, the Raiders had only 13 sacks last season, the fewest in the NFL by 17 sacks. He has to help.

Ferrell was asked about comparing himself to the rest of the defensive ends at the combine, but he may as well have been addressing the pressure of replacing Mack in the minds of Raiders fans.

"I don't measure my level of potential or my greatness that I'm trying to achieve to somebody else because then I won't know what my full potential is. I really more so just focus on being the best me that I can be."

Based on who the Raiders traded away less than a year ago, that best had better be pretty special.