Wisconsin Badgers tight end Jake Ferguson enters his Junior year on the heels of back to back solid seasons in Madison. Entering his Junior season, Ferguson looks to establish himself as a top tight end prospect for the 2021 NFL draft.
He’s not getting the hype of other 2021 eligible tight ends at the moment, though. Still, Ferguson finds himself in an ideal situation this season. More importantly, he has the tools to take the next step as a player.
We’re going to break down his game, upside, and style of play, but first lets cover his production.
Freshman and Sophomore Campaigns
Ferguson finished second on the Badgers in both receptions and yards in each of his first two seasons. His Freshman season saw him put up a line of 36 receptions for 456 yards. In year two, he hauled in 33 receptions for 407 yards.
While his production technically did dip in his sophomore season, it had more to do with his surroundings than anything else. Quintez Cephus returned to the field in 2019, giving Wisconsin their clear cut WR1 in the pass game (Cephus was selected in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions).
Further, Wisconsin utilizes a run heavy offense that most recently featured Jonathan Taylor in the backfield. His targets are limited due to the offense, but that style of offense also works in his favor.
How so? His blocking assignments.
He was a crucial part of the run game in 2019, and gave us ample film on him as a run blocker.
Ferguson’s greatest strength is his ability to be used in multiple formations as a plus run blocker. He has the ability to lineup in multiple spots on the field depending on formation.
Creating mismatches in the run game makes him an instant asset, and he’s consistent in winning his assignment. Jonathan Taylor’s massive year rushing wouldn’t have been possible without the blocking in front of him.
In the film, it’s clear that Ferguson was a huge part of that success in 2019.
Strong After the Catch
Ferguson isn’t the most shifty tight end in space, but he doesn’t let that prevent him from being effective after the catch. He displays high awareness in finding the right spot to attack once he has the ball, and he isn’t afraid of contact.
According to Pro Football Focus, he’s broken 7+ tackles in each season of his collegiate career. Given the limited number of touches he has gotten, that number is quite impressive.
Ferguson has also flashed on designed screens due to his skills with the ball in his hand. The versatility he brings to an offense is likely somewhat capped by the Badgers offensive tendencies.
Regardless, there’s glimpses of what he’ll bring to a creative offense all over his tape.
Steady, Reliable Receiver
His receiving numbers aren’t going to blow you away, at least up until this point. One thing that can be said, though, is that he’s a dependable target when you look his way.
He’s good at selling the run on play action, and finds soft spots for his QB to get him the ball. He’s consistent in securing receptions before looking to make the next move.
That doesn’t mean he lacks that next move when he gets the ball, though. As I mentioned earlier, Ferguson excels at making an effective, decisive decision as soon as he turns up field.
Areas to Improve
Ferguson’s overall game is strong enough that he will be an asset to an NFL team when the time comes. That being said, there’s improvements to his game that are necessary if he’s going to spend the 2020 season moving up draft boards.
These areas are the potential differences in teams viewing him as a future TE1, or simply a depth TE who can help in heavy formations.
While Ferguson isn’t a bad route runner for an inline tight end, he isn’t a strong one either. The majority of his receptions come off of play action, which is something he excels at.
A new wrinkle to his arsenal would be getting more precise with his routes. Creating separation is an asset that any QB will lean on. With last years top WR out of the picture, the Badgers would benefit greatly from an improved route runner in Jake Ferguson.
The ability to beat a defender without deception is what separates the featured pass catchers from the rest of the bunch. Without a proven WR that has produced for the team, Ferguson may be asked to win more one on one routes.
Red Zone Production
Ferguson’s solid receiving lines have lacked in one crucial area: Touchdowns. Over 27 career games played, he has hauled in 6 TD’s for Wisconsin.
It’s important to note that both of his Sophomore season TD’s came in the Red Zone (Via www.cfbstats.com). Still, he totaled just four red zone receptions (Including the two touchdowns). To move up draft boards, he’s going to need to flash more play-making ability inside the 20.
Cephus and Taylor combined for 12 of 18 Badgers receiving touchdowns last season. With both of them moving onto the NFL, Ferguson has the opportunity to prove he can produce as a red zone threat.
At 6’5”, he has the size needed to be featured in goal to go situations. In order to do so, he will need to improve his body control and ball skills. By doing so, he’d give himself the chance to see those goal to go looks in the Badger offense.
2021 NFL Draft Outlook
The 2021 NFL draft class is loaded at the TE position. Pat Freiermuth (Penn State) and Kyle Pitts (Florida) have the most buzz surrounding them entering the season, with Charlie Kolar (Iowa State), Brevin Jordan (University of Miami), and a plethora of other talented tight ends in the mix behind them.
Tight ends are one of the most unique positions in today’s NFL. Scheme and system fit are extremely important, and preferences vary a fair amount from team to team.
Jake Ferguson will continue doing what he’s asked at Wisconsin, likely resulting in lesser receiving numbers than some of the other TE’s in next years class.
His ability as both a blocker and reliable target will likely get him drafted in the first 4 rounds if he enters next years draft. Teams running systems similar to the 49ers, Packers, and even the Ravens will value him higher than teams looking to split their TE out wide on a majority of snaps.
Keep an eye on Ferguson this season, because before you know it, he’s going to be a key contributor for an NFL team.