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Why the 49ers should feel confident about betting on themselves with the Clelin Ferrell signing

Let’s talk about what the 49ers are getting in their latest free agent signing

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The 49ers added some more firepower to their defensive line today, agreeing to a one-year deal with former first round pick Clelin Ferrell.

After being selected fourth overall in the 2019 draft, Ferrell hasn’t quite lived up to the billing that comes with being a top five selection.

Ferrell has totaled 10 sacks and 98 pressures across four seasons with the Raiders, numbers that don’t exactly jump out at first glance given the draft capital that was invested in Ferrell.

While it’s unrealistic to expect Ferrell to take a massive leap and become the edge rusher the Raiders envisioned when they selected him with their top pick in 2019, there is plenty of room to envision his potential to carve out an important role with the 49ers in 2023.

That optimism is more about the 49ers and their proven process than it is about Ferrell or his talent on an individual level. This current regime has excelled in a number of ways when it comes to roster construction, and among those has been their ability to create a blueprint that doesn’t follow the traditional trends of a given position or the value that may be associated with a player.

A notable example of this has been the way they have aggressively targeted less heralded linebackers who have a history of playing as a defensive back. This approach has landed them foundational players in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who are arguably the best linebacker duo in the sport at this point in time.

The 49ers front office has taken a similar approach when constructing their defensive line, targeting edge rushers whose production doesn’t mirror their talent level. They then thought outside the box by kicking these extremely athletic edge rushers inside, creating a path for them to get isolated looks on interior linemen who aren’t used to dealing with the speed and twitch that a player who is typically lined up on the outside possesses.

Arden Key and Charles Omenihu are the greatest examples of the success the 49ers have had following this blueprint in recent seasons, and there are some parallels that can be drawn from both of those players and Ferrell.

For starters, here are each of the players pressure rate in their full seasons with their previous teams prior to joining the 49ers.


9.56 percent pressure rate


8.55 percent pressure rate


9.19 percent pressure rate

Now take a look at how that pressure rate improved for Key and Omenihu during their first full year with the 49ers:


12.6 percent pressure rate


13.1 percent pressure rate

Both players saw a significant spike in their pass rush production during their first full season in San Francisco. The common denominator for both was the number of snaps they recorded as interior defensive linemen once they joined the 49ers.

Here are the snap count percentages for both players during their first full year with the 49ers:


40 percent of snaps came from an interior alignment


44 percent of snaps came from an interior alignment

Now back to Ferrell. After spending the majority of his career lined up on the edge, Ferrell saw a significant spike in the number of snaps he recorded from the interior during the 2022 season. Over 25 percent of the snaps Ferrell took for the Raiders last season came from an interior alignment, a trend that bodes well for his projection into that Key/Omenihu role with the 49ers.

Here are a couple of examples of Ferrell flashing the potential that he brings as a player who the 49ers can isolate on opposing interior linemen. The first is from a 4i technique, and the bull rush from Ferrell leads to him splitting a sack with Chandler Jones.

This next one is from a three technique. Ferrell can use a side-swipe to get into a position to deliver a considerable hit on Texans quarterback Davis Mills as he releases this ball.

At 6’4 265 pounds, Ferrell has more than enough size to hold his own on the inside. The other added bonus is he has always been an above-average run defender, which means he also should be able to get into the edge rotation on base downs as well.

The risk is minimal here on a one-year deal, but the potential reward is something to keep an eye on. Ferrell has the opportunity to revive his career this season and based on recent history from 49ers players in a similar position, there is a good chance he will succeed in doing so.