LSU has a proud tradition of producing defensive players and defensive linemen in particular over the last several years. Ego Ferguson is part of this year’s draft class after declaring as a junior after a strong season, though only his first as a starter. Anthony Johnson had been the team’s nose guard but slimmed down and moved to the 3-technique defensive tackle spot with Ferguson becoming their starting nose. Ferguson missed the team’s bowl game due to a suspension for violating team rules and rather than staying, Ferguson opted to declare, leaving some questions to be answered.
Ferguson has a good amount of technical prowess as a big bodied defensive lineman despite a lack of playing experience. From that standpoint, he appeared to be ready to make the jump to the NFL. On the other hand, Ferguson still needs more physical development and while his technique is good, his lack of strength will probably cause him problems initially in his career. If he can get stronger and keep getting more technically sound, he could be a nice nose guard in the NFL down the line. Teams will have to look into his off field situations and decide how willing they are to pay the freight on his development. Ferguson warrants a day three pick on the field that could become a full line player if he can keep getting stronger and develop an NFL caliber body.
Vitals & Build
Ferguson measured in 6’3” 315lbs at the scouting combine with 32 ½” arms. He played with a decent amount of weight around his midsection and could work to get a little fitter in addition to getting stronger there. Ferguson possesses a good amount of functional strength and shows power against opponents. His overall speed is run of the mill, but he does exhibit a nice burst that can catch people by surprise. Ferguson still has room to keep adding muscle and in addition to adding strength up top, if he can eliminate some of the excess baggage around his midsection, he still has a good amount of upside physically.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Ferguson does a decent job of anticipating the snap and attacking. Part of that is because he will try to guess the snap count at times to get a jump on the opponent. There are situations where it works great and others where he gets caught offsides. LSU was obviously fine with that and took the good with the bad.
His first step is solid in that he does a good job in firing forward and low. Or, if he does fire out too high, he will sometimes correct himself and sink before getting into making contact. Ferguson is pretty aggressive and is able to get in and initiate contact.
Ferguson does a nice job of using his legs to keep driving forward while using his hands and maneuvering his body in space. He is able to use his hands effectively to not only get into the bodies of opponents but has shown he can disengage and work off of them in short areas.
Ferguson has also shown he can sort of feel his way through and into spaces to further clog up plays. He needs to get quicker with his hands and with how effectively he can shed, but he has a knack for working his way into plays.
Ferguson does his best work against the run, because he does a good job of forcing teams to double team him. He is inconsistent with his pad level at times and can stand up too much, but for the most part, he does a nice job of playing behind his hands with his body in sync so he get everything out of his strength. The result is that he often maximizes his arm length and drives opponents into the backfield and in some instances, can drive double teams back.
The times where his pad level fails him, he can get stoned at the line of scrimmage or pushed back by double teams. By in large, he sets the line of scrimmage and holds his ground at the point of attack with the ability to collapse the pocket.
Ferguson has decent quickness and is able to make plays in and around him, getting off of blocks and being able to tackle the ball carrier. He is also pretty good when it comes to working down the line of scrimmage and being able to sift through bodies to make plays. In spite of his size, he can get skinny at times, is able to maneuver himself in and around big bodies to cause problems for the offense.
From a technical standpoint, Ferguson does a pretty good job for the most part. The better he gets at avoiding giving up his chest and simply getting better from a physical standpoint, he has the potential to be a force in the middle, especially against the run.
Ferguson does his best work against the run, but he can give a team help as a pass rusher on running downs. In addition to his threat to collapse the pocket by playing with power up the middle, Ferguson can use his hands to get in and around opponents and work his way to the passer.
What enables Ferguson to stand out is that when he is free and there is a path to the quarterback, he has the burst over short distances that allows him to close quickly, especially up the middle. He is an extremely limited threat when the quarterback can evacuate the pocket with speed and Ferguson is basically left to lunge and hope to clip a leg before the quarterback gets away from him.
Ferguson is not useless in obvious passing situations and will give everything he can, but he is definitely not the ideal defensive lineman on the field there. His best asset in passing situations is creating opportunities for the teammates by taking away escape routes for the quarterback. He will also try to get his hands up when he is not going to get to the quarterback and try to knock down passes.
Ferguson’s best fit is in an even front as a nose guard for two reasons. He is athletic enough to give more than zero as a pass rusher and at this point, he is not strong enough to really anchor as a nose tackle in a 3-4. With time and more strength, he has the ability to do the job, but 4-3 teams may like him better now.
Ferguson appears as though he will be depth initially and used as a rotational player, predominately just put in the weight room and just use his rookie season to get as strong as possible. He could have a nice impact and keep teammates fresh, but his biggest impact is probably down the road and he does have starting potential down the road.
Ferguson’s game is somewhat similar to that of Steve McClendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers. After coming out of Troy, McClendon spent much of his early career just working to stay on the roster and develop behind Casey Hampton. McClendon had a good body type with pretty good length but with the ability to bend and stay low to anchor, so he just kept working to get stronger and took advantage of the opportunity and has now become their starter. Ferguson could have a similar path, though it might not take as long. He has the same body type as Ferguson and needs to work to get stronger.
Ferguson has the skill set and ability to play with leverage that could allow him to be an effective run clogger in the NFL. And while he is not being brought in to rush the passer, he can provide more of a rush than some players of his type. Ferguson needs to get stronger and teams need to be content with the off field situation, because he could be worth developing over the long term. He warrants a third day on the field, but could go undrafted if the off field situation scares teams away..
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com