San Francisco Chronicle

Ferrell hopes change brings about success

- Eric Branch covers the 49ers for the San Francisco Chronicle: ebranch@sfchronicl­; Twitter: @Eric_Branch

The last act of Clelin Ferrell’s college career was a wild success in Santa Clara.

The next act of Ferrell’s NFL career: It also will occur in Santa Clara, but success seems far from assured.

Last week, about four years after Ferrell capped his Clemson tenure by playing a role in the Tigers’ rout of Alabama at Levi’s Stadium in the national championsh­ip game, the pass rusher returned to the South Bay to sign his one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers.

On Jan. 7, 2019, Ferrell, who was Clemson’s first two-time first-team AllAmerica­n in 37 years, answered questions about his decorated past and promising future after a 44-16 win over the Tide. Last week, Ferrell, 25, who became the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft less than four months after that victory, was asked questions that hinted at his rugged recent past and uncertain future during his introducto­ry Zoom news conference.

After he managed just 10 sacks in his four seasons with the Raiders, was the criticism he endured fair?

“I think criticism, regardless of whether it’s fair or not, it just is what it is,” Ferrell said. “It comes with the territory. People will always have an opinion to say.”

After he signed with the 49ers, who have rejuvenate­d the careers of down-ontheir-luck defensive ends, could he now realize his potential?

“I hate that word potential because I hate talking about it,” Ferrell said. “But definitely, regardless of the fact, I think you just want progressio­n.”

Ferrell regressed with the Raiders. He opened with a career-best 4½ sacks while making 15 starts in his rookie season. He finished with just 3½ sacks in 32 games (four starts) while averaging 23.6 snaps a game in his final two seasons.

His middling production led to a relatively modest contract, particular­ly for a player at a premium position. Ferrell signed his one-year, $2.46 million deal with $1.16 million guaranteed after playing on his four-year, fully guaranteed $31.36 million rookie contract.

The 49ers are hoping Ferrell will re-establish his worth after spending a season with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, whose track record provides reason for optimism.

In 2020, defensive end Kerry Hyder, coming off a one-sack season with the Cowboys, signed a oneyear, $1.25 million deal with the 49ers. He then had a team-high 8½ sacks and earned $3.65 million with the Seahawks in 2021.

In 2021, defensive end Arden Key, a third-round pick who had been waived by the Raiders, signed a one-year, $1.04 million deal with the 49ers. He then had a career-best 6½ sacks and has since earned $12.03 million on one-year contracts with the Jaguars and Titans, respective­ly, the past two seasons.

There’s more. But you get the idea. And so does Ferrell.

“I definitely take heed,” he said, “and look at those guys’ history and see where it projects.”

The 49ers were widely projected to make their free-agent splurge on an edge rusher to complement Nick Bosa, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

They did invest big on the defensive line, but they did so on the interior by signing Pro Bowl tackle Javon Hargrave to a fouryear, $88 million deal.

Given the 49ers’ limited remaining salary-cap space, it’s possible they’ll pin their hopes on Kocurek developing Ferrell and Drake Jackson, another edge rusher selected with a high-end pick. Jackson, the 49ers’ first selection in 2022, taken No. 61 overall, had just three sacks as a rookie and was phased out of the backup rotation late in the season.

For his part, Ferrell, whose college career ended in storybook fashion in Santa Clara, believes his next NFL chapter will include success in the same city.

“I’m still a very young player,” Ferrell said, “and I still have a lot of time to develop.”

 ?? Cooper Neill/Getty Images ?? Clelin Ferrell joins the 49ers after tallying just 10 sacks across a four-year career with the Raiders.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images Clelin Ferrell joins the 49ers after tallying just 10 sacks across a four-year career with the Raiders.

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