Ravens linebacker Jaylon Ferguson died after authorities found him unconscious late Tuesday at a home in North Baltimore. He was 26.
Officials did not give a cause of death, but Baltimore police said Wednesday that investigators are not ruling out the possibility of an overdose.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Jaylon Ferguson,” the Ravens said in a statement on Wednesday. “He was a kind, respectful young man with a big smile and an infectious personality. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Jaylon’s family and friends as we mourn a life lost too soon.”
Baltimore police said Northern District officers responded around 11:25 p.m. Tuesday to reports of a suspicious death at a home on the 400 block of Ilchester Avenue in Baltimore’s Harwood neighborhood. There, the police found that Ferguson was not responding and was being treated by doctors.
“Ferguson never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the scene,” Baltimore Police spokeswoman Nicky Fenna said in a statement.
Police said there were no signs of injury or foul play. They said the medical examiner would determine the cause of death.
Ferguson was entering his fourth NFL season in Baltimore. He looked leaner and more explosive at the Ravens’ three-day mandatory mini-camp last week before suffering what coach John Harbaugh called a sprained ankle. Ferguson, who was scheduled to arrive at training camp in late July, had 67 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles in 38 games (10 starts) for the Ravens.
“Jeylon was a kind, gentle man who loved his family and his team,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “It was a pleasure to talk to him and be with him every day. You always wanted to see and talk to Ferg. Our prayers and our help go out to his family. Our hearts are with His Spirit. Rest in peace Jaylon.
Ferguson was described by Ravens teammates as sincere and supportive. Outside midfielder Tyus Bowser said that “Ferguson’s positive energy, support and his belief in me helped me become the player and person I am today.” Linebacker Calais Campbell said that Ferguson “usually had a big grin on his face and brightened up the room with a joke”. Inside Linebacker Josh Bynes tweeted that he and Ferguson “joked together, laughed together, prayed together, fought on the field together!!”
Safety Tony Jefferson said that Ferguson told him before leaving mini-camp that he was “ready for the big year and I believed it would be his best season as a Raven”. Inside linebacker Patrick Quinn, a Louisiana native, shared on Twitter that he had a recent conversation with Ferguson. “Said it was our turn this year” He wrote.
“Jailon had a pure heart,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “He wanted to be a great player, but he never tried to downplay his teammates in order to achieve that. Going against him in training, he would always tell me when I was doing a good job, even if it meant it was against him. He was always smiling and had a zeal to learn. He wanted to be better for himself and his children. He was so excited every time he had a new baby that was about to be born. He was always talking about them and how he plays for them.”
Selected in the third round of the 2018 draft, Ferguson set the Football Bowl division record for career sacks (45) at Louisiana Tech, eclipsing former Arizona State and Ravens great Terrell Suggs. Then-Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale told Ferguson after he was drafted that it was “the best interview I’ve ever had. When you started talking about the pass rush your eyes lit up and I can’t wait to bring you here.”
Ferguson played for the Bulldogs for three years, winning the 2018 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year award and earning the nickname “Bag Dad” from a teammate. Ferguson became the first member of his family to graduate.
“The Los Angeles Institute of Technology family mourns the tragic news received this morning of the sudden death of former Bulldog great Jaylon Ferguson,” the Louisiana Tech football team said in a statement. shared on twitter. “We will remember his God-given talents on the field and his infectious personality off the field.”
The day before Ferguson’s call in April 2019, a 130 mph tornado swept through Ruston, a small city in northern Louisiana, including parts of the Louisiana Tech campus. The hurricane killed two people and caused $9.1 million in damage to city property. After that, Ferguson joined a wave of volunteers who helped clear debris, deliver food, water and supplies, and help those in need.
Ruston Mayor Ronnie Walker called Ferguson a “class actor”, a “strong role model” for local youth, and also a “fucking pass rusher”.
“We have lost a man with a big heart and a desire to help the community wherever he is,” Walker said in a phone interview Wednesday. “He was not from Ruston, but still accepted the city. And in times of need, he took charge, as did several former players who returned. So it’s one thing to say, “I’m part of the community and I want to help,” but it’s another thing when you go out and actually do the work.”
Robb Odom, Ferguson’s football coach at West Feliciana High School in St. Francisville, Louisiana, said in an interview that Ferguson was well-mannered, quiet, and always “minding his own business.” According to Odom, Ferguson had a big heart and “there wasn’t an ounce of selfishness in his body.”
When he managed to return home to Louisiana, Ferguson often visited his alma mater. West Feliciana retired Ferguson’s school uniform number 44 last year. Ferguson’s father, Richard, also wore number 44, and they often argued about which one was better, Odom said.
“The whole society is in shock,” Odom said. “This is a sad, sad day. He will be missed.”
Neighbors in the 400 block on Ilchester Avenue said they were shocked by the news. They were unaware that Ferguson had any connection to the area, which they say is close-knit and relatively quiet.
“What the hell was a Ravens player doing this block?” said 40-year-old Lawrence Cox incredulously. Cox had just pulled up to his house Wednesday afternoon, apparently sleeping through the night until the police responded. “This is breaking news for me,” he said.
Crystal Living, 40, said she woke up around 4 a.m. and saw a car being evacuated from the scene. Hours passed before she realized what the police investigation was all about. She said she couldn’t remember hearing of any Ravens players hanging out in the area.
“I have no idea what happened,” she said. “It’s just really sad.”
Ferguson is survived by his fiancée Doni Smith and their three young children, Jrea, Jays and Demi. In her Instagram story on Wednesday, Smith shared a video of Ferguson playing with her children and photos of their family together.
“I love you so much!!” she wrote. “I will never in my life feel the love you gave me, baby! It has always been us. You really left me alone in this world, baby. I broke. I’m in pain. I want you Back!!”
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Cohen contributed to this story.