clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jake Ferguson could be a key to the Cowboys offensive success in 2022

The Cowboys rookie tight end looks promising so far, which is great news.

NFL: JUN 02 Dallas Cowboys OTA Offseason Workouts Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the Cowboys offense is going to take a serious step backwards in 2022. It’s not unrealistic to think that, and it’s actually fairly probable to happen considering this unit finished sixth in offensive DVOA while leading the league in both yards and points scored. It certainly doesn’t help that they’ll be welcoming two new starters on the offensive line and two new starters at wide receiver.

The caveat, though, is that the Cowboys won’t be running the same type of offense this year as they did last year. As the personnel changes, so too does their approach to playing football. We’ve looked before at the Cowboys’ gradually rising use of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) and how that can clue us into this philosophical change.

12 Personnel Usage under Kellen Moore

 12 Personnel 12 Personnel Rank Success Rate Pass Rate Success Rate Run Rate Success Rate
 12 Personnel 12 Personnel Rank Success Rate Pass Rate Success Rate Run Rate Success Rate
2019 18% T-14 53% 37% 59% 63% 50%
2020 21% 14 50% 35% 48% 65% 51%
2021 24% T-10 56% 37% 59% 63% 53%

Two tight end sets are a staple of the offenses Kellen Moore ran when he was a quarterback at Boise State, so it should be no surprise that he’s been making more and more use of 12 personnel since taking over the offense. What is surprising, at least somewhat, is how effective the Cowboys have been in 12 personnel; in 2021, Dallas had a higher success rate on both run and pass plays out of 12 personnel than any other grouping.

That’s all the justification Moore needs to ramp up the use of it even more. And considering the Cowboys had a successful run rate of 53% in 12 personnel last year, running more of it would seem to line up with the overall theme of a stronger running game that this offseason has been filled with. Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys’ top tight end, said as much.

The Cowboys are trying to run the ball more this year, and they did that better out of 12 personnel than any other grouping last year. Schultz hints that they plan to pair this with a vertical passing attack, which would explain why James Washington was their only free agent signing at wide receiver. It also explains why Simi Fehoko - who averaged a ridiculous 18.5 yards per reception in college - has been having one of the more impressive training camp performances thus far.

But here’s the thing about 12 personnel or any personnel grouping: you have to have the players to run it. Last year, Dallas had Schultz and Blake Jarwin, two dynamic tight ends that empowered them to do just that. Jarwin is gone now, so the Cowboys need to identify a second tight end who is capable of succeeding both as a blocker and pass-catcher. If that second tight end isn’t able to hold his own when blocking or make defenses pay when thrown to, then it undermines the very credibility of the play structure.

Enter rookie Jake Ferguson. Taken in the fourth round, Ferguson didn’t receive as much hype as other draft picks. But Ferguson has done nothing but flash since training camp began, and he’s quickly making his case to be that second tight end when the Cowboys go into 12 personnel. Mike McCarthy gave a strong endorsement of Ferguson as well.

And while it’s rarely advisable to invest too much into any depth charts put out this time of year, it was notable to see Ferguson listed all alone on the second team at tight end, ahead of veterans Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle. It should be noted that McKeon has looked good at moments in camp as well, but it certainly seems that Ferguson has outplayed him thus far.

Preseason games will reveal much more, but Ferguson appears to be in a good spot to clinch that thankless yet crucial TE2 role this year. If Ferguson is able to keep this momentum going, he could prove to be exactly what the Cowboys are looking for in this spot.

If that’s the case, it’ll make the offense even more effective when running two tight end sets. Not only would that play into the philosophical shift we’re likely to see this year, but it also helps mitigate the losses at the wide receiver position, seeing as how 12 personnel only places two receivers on the field. If all of this happens, as it looks like it’s heading that way for Ferguson, the rookie could end up being the unsung hero of a Cowboys offense that changes its attack but remains similarly effective.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys