Few NFL pass rushers had a catchier nickname than Jaylon “Sack Daddy” Ferguson.
Ferguson earned the moniker during his college days with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. His 45.0 sacks during his redshirt senior season in 2018 eclipsed Terrell Suggs’ previous record by a single sack.
It wasn’t surprising that the Baltimore Ravens, one of the NFL’s best defensive units, wanted him so badly.
The Ravens eventually made Jaylon Ferguson the 85th overall selection of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Regrettably, he never lived up to lofty expectations on the pro gridiron. He had just 4.5 sacks and 67 combined tackles in 38 career games with the Ravens.
Ferguson was all set for a breakout year when he passed away unexpectedly in the summer of 2022.
Ravens Nation will forever remember the kind-hearted soul nicknamed “Sack Daddy.”
Jaylon O’Neal Ferguson was born to parents Richard and Jackie in Zachary, LA on December 14, 1995. He had two younger brothers named Jazmond and Richard Jr.
Jazmond, nicknamed “Jazz,” played wide receiver for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the XFL’s Dallas Renegades.
Jaylon Ferguson attended West Feliciana High School in Bains, LA. He excelled in basketball and football for the West Feliciana Saints.
Ferguson helped the Saints football team become contenders on the gridiron. He earned All-District honors as a junior in 2013.
Ferguson garnered more accolades as a senior. He earned district and metro MVP honors in 2014. He also received All-State honors that year.
Ferguson helped the Saints win the 3A state title in his senior year. His head coach, Robb Odom, marveled at his outstanding leadership skills on and off the gridiron.
“When you’ve got kids like Jaylon that show up every day and work their tail off, you know, it trickles down to the other kids,” Odom told LouisianaRadioNetwork.com’s Jeff Palermo in the summer of 2022.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic passing of West Feliciana alum Jaylon Ferguson.
Jaylon had a tremendous impact on our school and community.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones during this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/CeSe2B5XuU
— West Feliciana Football (@WFHS_FB) June 22, 2022
Ferguson wasn’t just a leader—he was also a ferocious competitor. Odom thought he had all the makings of a great college football player.
The Saints’ head football coach also told Palermo that Ferguson was a great person who made an impact on his school and the local community.
Although Jaylon Ferguson had a soft side off the gridiron, he had a nasty reputation on it.
Odom told Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz in November 2019 that Ferguson was relentless and he always overpowered opposing offensive linemen and left them in tears.
However, Ferguson justified his relentless nature on the field by stating that he worked hard so he didn’t let his teammates down.
“On the field, I got people I can’t let down,” Ferguson told Kasinitz during his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens. “That’s how I work. That’s how I eat. And I’ve got my kids now, so I’m not going to let nothing stop me from eating.”
Jaylon Ferguson’s college shortlist included the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, the Memphis Tigers, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Missouri Tigers, the North Carolina State Wolfpack, the Tulane Green Wave, and the UCF Knights.
Ferguson eventually remained in-state with Louisiana Tech where he would emerge as one of the most feared pass rushers in the college football ranks.
College Days With The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Jaylon Ferguson attended Louisiana Tech University from 2014 to 2018.
After redshirting his true freshman campaign in 2014, Ferguson evolved into a notorious pass-rushing menace for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs during the next four years.
Ferguson started five games and had a team-high 6.0 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his redshirt freshman campaign in 2015. He had 7 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss against the UTSA Roadrunners on October 10, 2015.
When Jaylon Ferguson played in the National Football League four years later, he still remembered his first college sack like it was yesterday.
“I was just a young pup who liked to run around,” Ferguson told the Baltimore Ravens’ official website in the fall of 2019.
Ferguson’s impressive redshirt freshman year earned him the starting defensive end spot in 2016. He led the team with 16 tackles for loss and set a new school record with 14.5 sacks that year.
Ferguson had 2.5 sacks in three different games as a redshirt sophomore. He also tied the school record with two fumble recoveries in a single game.
Despite an injury that forced Ferguson to miss several games, he still had 39 tackles and a team-high 7.0 sacks in 2017.
Ferguson decided to stay for a fifth year at Louisiana Tech so he could become the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
Ferguson earned his famous “Sack Daddy” nickname as a redshirt senior in the 2018 NCAA season— his 17.5 sacks led the nation that year.
Ferguson’s career 45.0 sacks not only set a new school record, but also set a new all-time NCAA record. He eclipsed the Arizona State Sun Devils’ Terrell Suggs’ old record of 44.0 sacks in 2002.
To nobody’s surprise, Jaylon Ferguson won a slew of accolades in 2018, including:
- Walter Camp Second Team All-America
- FWAA Second Team All-America
- Sporting News Second Team All-America
- Associated Press Third Team All-America
- SoFi Hawaii Bowl Most Outstanding Player
The Bulldogs won an average of eight games per year with Ferguson at defensive end from 2015 to 2018. They won four bowl games—the 2015 New Orleans Bowl, the 2016 Armed Forces Bowl, the 2017 Frisco Bowl, and the 2018 Hawaii Bowl—during that four-year stretch.
Ferguson finished his stellar career at Louisiana Tech with 45.0 sacks, 187 total tackles, 67.5 tackles for loss, 3 fumble recoveries, and 6 passes defensed.
Jaylon Ferguson, one of the most accomplished pass rushers in NCAA football history, took his skills to the National Football League in 2019.
Unfortunately, Ferguson never lived up to the hype. Worse, his young life was tragically cut short before he entered his fourth pro football season.
Pro Football Career
The Baltimore Ravens made Jaylon Ferguson the 85th overall selection of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Prior to Ferguson being selected to don Ravens purple and black, some scouts and executives became wary of his character.
According to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, the NFL rescinded Ferguson’s NFL Scouting Combine invitation after a background check revealed he had a previous criminal record in college.
It turned out Louisiana authorities charged Ferguson with simple battery stemming from an altercation at a McDonald’s restaurant during his freshman year with the Bulldogs. Ferguson had to pay a $189 fine for his actions.
The NFL eventually allowed Ferguson to speak with teams. However, he couldn’t do on-field drills and testing.
“I was disappointed because I felt like it was something I worked hard at and earned the right to do in college,” Ferguson told Hensley in the spring of 2019.
Hensley made it clear in his ESPN piece that Jaylon Ferguson never really caused trouble during his college days. In fact, Ferguson’s peers knew him as a soft-spoken and laid-back individual.
Proof of Ferguson’s character came on the eve of the 2019 NFL Draft when a deadly tornado ravaged his hometown of Ruston, LA.
The tornado swept through the town for eight minutes and covered a 6.8-mile radius. it produced 135 mph winds that destroyed approximately 500 houses. The estimated damages amounted to $9.1 million, per Hensley.
Louisiana Tech DE and projected 2nd Round pick in this years draft , Jaylon Ferguson is currently helping tornado victims in Ruston, LA with no cell-service, make make him unable to know if he gets drafted Thursday or Friday pic.twitter.com/BLYmx6h4jo
— JDF Sports (@JDFSports) April 25, 2019
Instead of hosting an NFL Draft party at his house, Ferguson became one of 5,000 volunteers who helped victims in the deadly tornado’s aftermath.
Ferguson, his father Richard, and his Louisiana Tech teammate Willie Baker removed uprooted trees and distributed food and water to various tornado victims.
“I think Jaylon understood how Louisiana Tech offered him the opportunity to become the man he is,” Ruston, LA mayor Ronny Walker told ESPN in April 2019. “For him to do that, that was incredible.”
The Ravens badly needed a pass rusher for the 2019 NFL season after Terrell Suggs—the man whose NCAA sack record Ferguson eclipsed in 2018—and Za’Darius Smith tested the free-agent waters.
Baltimore had to wait for the 85th overall selection before they drafted the pass rusher. They already used their first-round selection on former Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Marquise Brown.
The Ravens’ efforts to trade up for Ferguson, a player they highly coveted, never materialized. Consequently, Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta grew more nervous by the minute in the draft room.
Fortunately, Ferguson fell into the Ravens’ laps with the 85th overall selection.
Ferguson, who was still reeling from the effects of the deadly tornado, stepped outside when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced his selection on stage.
The Ravens tried to reach Ferguson, to no avail. They called Ferguson’s agent Safarrah Lawson who, in turn, gave the phone to him to answer.
“It was the call of a lifetime,” Ferguson told Hensley in the spring of 2019. “It is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
The biggest rivalry during Ferguson’s college football career was Louisiana Tech vs. Southern Mississippi.
When he entered the National Football League in 2019, he officially became part of the intense Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry.
Ferguson told the Ravens’ official website that even though the two rivalries had a big disparity in terms of crowd attendance, they had the same intensity.
The Ravens’ release of third-year defensive end Tim Williams opened a door for Ferguson in October 2019.
“I have to do it fast,” Ferguson told BaltimoreRavens.com. “I don’t have four years to try to learn and get my feet wet. This league is all about what you’re doing for me now.”
Ferguson learned the basics of the NFL pass rush from veterans Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judon when he entered the pro football ranks in 2019.
Unfortunately, Ferguson didn’t live up to massive expectations in the National Football League.
The 6’5″, 270-lb. Ferguson mustered just 4.5 sacks and 61 tackles in his first two years in Charm City.
Jaylon Ferguson, an outside linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens died after being found unresponsive in a North Baltimore home. He died from the combined effects of fentanyl and cocaine. He was just 26-years-old.
— ABowens Drug and Alcohol Counseling (@AbowensC) July 6, 2022
Nonetheless, Ravens outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins told RavensWire’s Kevin Oestricher in the summer of 2021 that he was excited about Ferguson’s improvement entering his third NFL season.
Wilkins said Ferguson had a better understanding of the playbook heading into training camp that year. The man known as “Sack Daddy” also began mentoring younger Ravens pass rushers.
Better yet, Ferguson had a golden opportunity to excel at outside linebacker after the departures of Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, and Jihad Ward during the offseason.
Regrettably, Wilkins’ assessment of Ferguson didn’t materialize in the 2021 NFL season. The latter had just 6 combined tackles and no sacks in 10 games for the Ravens.
Despite Ferguson’s struggles on the football field, the Ravens averaged 11 wins per year from 2019 to 2021. Alas, they couldn’t get past the AFC Divisional Round during that three-year stretch.
During Ferguson’s three-year stint with Baltimore, he forgot certain items at home on purpose so he could see his fiancé Doni Smith more often.
Smith told The Baltimore Sun’s Darcy Costello in the summer of 2022 that he always called her and asked her to bring whatever clothes or shoes he had forgotten to the team hotel. When Smith showed up at his door, Ferguson was all smiles.
Ferguson’s charitable demeanor continued during his career with the Ravens. He regularly invited friends to stay in an extra room in his Baltimore residence.
He also volunteered his fiancé to cook for his guests. It wasn’t until after he told this to his guests that she’d find out about his promise, per Costello.
These friends eventually formed a tight bond with Ferguson and his family. His children even called them uncles over the years.
Ferguson also loved shopping for toys with his three kids during his three-year stint in Baltimore.
“Jaylon definitely had the biggest heart that I’ve ever imagined,” Smith told The Baltimore Sun in 2022. “He just was a guy that wanted joy.”
Jaylon Ferguson could’ve turned his pro gridiron career around in subsequent years. To everyone’s shock and dismay, he never got that chance.
Jaylon Ferguson’s Untimely Death
Sadly, Jaylon Ferguson passed away on June 21, 2022. He was just 26 years old.
Authorities found Ferguson unresponsive at a home in Baltimore at approximately 11:25 p.m. (EST). They found no signs of trauma and ruled out foul play.
According to The Baltimore Sun, Ferguson succumbed to the effects of fentanyl and cocaine. Investigators ruled his death an accident.
Breaking: Autopsy finds Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jaylon Ferguson died of combined effects of fentanyl and cocaine. His death has been ruled an accident. By @Baltimorebanner: https://t.co/zuoosnGluS
— Tim Prudente (@Tim_Prudente) July 1, 2022
Jaylon Ferguson and his fiancé had a son named Jyce and two daughters named Jrea and Demi at the time of his death. They were all under four years old.
Smith told The Baltimore Sun that Ferguson wanted to live a simple life after he retired from the National Football League. Some of his aspirations were purchasing land, starting a farm, owning a butcher shop, and coaching football.
Ferguson and Smith had plans to get married on July 9, 2022. They also wanted to host a big reception sometime the following year.
Both Ferguson and Smith encountered personal tragedies in the months leading up to the former’s death.
Ferguson’s grandmother passed away three months before he did. Ferguson’s house fire in May 2022 forced him and his family to stay at a nearby hotel for more than a month. Ferguson withstood burned toes and tried to save his kids’ possessions during the fire.
Smith’s grandmother also died during that trying period, per The Baltimore Sun.
We are profoundly saddened by the tragic passing of Jaylon Ferguson. pic.twitter.com/ylBvLEzjer
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) June 22, 2022
Jaylon Ferguson couldn’t spend Father’s Day 2022 with his family because he had doctors’ appointments in Baltimore for his sprained ankle. Baltimore police found him dead just two days later.
Ferguson had lost a significant amount of weight at the time of his death. From all indications, he wanted to become a faster and more explosive pass rusher in the 2022 NFL season and beyond.