Ravens linebacker Jaylon Ferguson died after authorities found him unconscious Tuesday at a home in north Baltimore. He was 26 years old.
Authorities did not release a cause of death, but Baltimore police said Wednesday that investigators had not ruled out the possibility of an overdose.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Jaylon Ferguson,” the Ravens said in a statement Wednesday. “He was a kind and respectful young man with a big smile and an infectious personality. We express our sincere condolences to Jaylon’s family and friends as we mourn a life lost too soon.”
Baltimore Police said Northern District officers responded at about 11:25 pm Tuesday to reports of a questionable death at a home on the 400th block of Ilchester Avenue in the Harwood neighborhood of Baltimore. There, police found Ferguson unresponsive and receiving treatment from doctors.
“Ferguson never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the scene by doctors,” Baltimore Police spokeswoman Niki Fennoy said in a statement.
Police said there were no signs of trauma or foul play. They said the medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Ferguson was entering his fourth NFL season in Baltimore. He looked leaner and more explosive at the Ravens’ mandatory three-day minicamp last week, before suffering what coach John Harbaugh called a sprained ankle. Ferguson, who was due to report to training camp in late July, had 67 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles in his 38 games (10 starts) with the Ravens.
“Jaylon was a kind and kind-hearted person who loved his family and his team,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “It was a joy talking to him and being around every day. You always wanted to see and talk to ‘Ferg’. Our prayers and help go out to your family. Our hearts are with your Spirit. RIP, Jaylon.”
Ravens teammates described Ferguson as genuine and supportive. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser said Ferguson’s “positive energy, encouragement and his belief in me helped shape me into the player and man I am today.” Defensive lineman Calais Campbell said Ferguson “usually had a big smile on his face and lit up the room with a joke.” Inside linebacker Josh Bynes wrote on twitter that he and Ferguson “played together, laughed together, prayed together, fought in the field together!!”
Safety Tony Jefferson said Ferguson told him before leaving the minicamp that he was “ready to have a great year, and I believed it would be his best season as Raven.” Inside linebacker Patrick Queen, a Louisiana native, shared on Twitter that he had a recent conversation with Ferguson. “Said it was our turn this year,” He wrote.
“Jaylon had a pure heart,” said left tackle Ronnie Stanley. “He wanted to be a great player, but he never tried to underestimate his teammates to get there. While going up against him in practice, he would always tell me when I was doing a good job, even when it meant it was against him. He always had a smile and had a willingness to learn. He wanted to be better for himself and his children. He got so excited every time he had a new child that was about to be born. He always talked about them and how he plays for them.”
A third-round pick in the 2018 draft, Ferguson set the Football Bowl Subdivision record for career sacks (45) at Louisiana Tech, surpassing the mark held by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State and Ravens. Then-Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale told Ferguson after he was drafted that he was “the best pass-rush interview I ever had. When you started talking about pass rush, your eyes lit up and I can’t wait to bring you here.”
Ferguson was a three-year starter with the Bulldogs, winning the 2018 US Conference Defensive Player of the Year award and earning the nickname “Sack Daddy” from a teammate. Ferguson became the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
“The LA Tech Family regrets this morning’s tragic news of the sudden death of former Bulldog player 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 it.”
The day before Ferguson was drafted in April 2019, a tornado with 130 mph winds hit Ruston, a small town in northern Louisiana, including parts of the Louisiana Tech campus. The storm left two people dead and caused $9.1 million in damage to city property. In its aftermath, Ferguson joined a wave of volunteers who helped clean up debris, deliver food, water and supplies, and help those in need.
Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker called Ferguson a “class act”, a “strong role model” for the area’s youth and “a great pass rusher as well”.
“We have lost a person with a big heart and desire to help the community, no matter where he is,” Walker said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “He wasn’t from Ruston, but he adopted the city anyway. And during a time of need, he stepped forward, 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’re going out and actually doing 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 “mind his own business.” Ferguson had a big heart, Odom said, and “didn’t have a selfish bone in his body.”
When he was able to return to Louisiana, Ferguson frequently visited his alma mater. West Feliciana retired the Ferguson high school jersey, #44, last year. Ferguson’s father Richard also wore number 44, and they often argued over who was the better player, Odom said.
“The whole community is in shock,” Odom said. “It’s a sad, sad day. He will be missed.”
Neighbors on the 400th block of Ilchester Avenue said the news came as a shock. They didn’t know that Ferguson had any connection to the neighborhood, which they said was very close-knit and relatively quiet.
“What the hell was a Ravens player doing on this block?” said Lawrence Cox, 40, looking incredulous. Cox had just pulled up outside his house on Wednesday afternoon, apparently having slept through the police response overnight. “This is breaking news for me,” he said.
Krystle Livering, 40, said she woke up around 4 am to see a car being towed away. Hours passed before she realized what the police investigation was all about. She said she didn’t remember hearing from any Ravens players in the area.
“I have no idea what happened,” she said. “It’s really very sad.”
Ferguson is survived by his fiancee, Doni Smith, and their three young children, Jrea, Jyce and Demi. In her Instagram story on Wednesday, Smith shared videos of Ferguson playing with her kids and photos of their family together.
“I love you so much!!” she wrote. “I’ll never in my life feel the love you gave me baby! It was always us. You really left me in this world alone, baby. I’m broken. I’m injured. I want you Back!!”
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Cohen contributed to this article.