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Why Jake Ferguson could be the Cowboys real solution at tight end

All attention is on the new rookie at tight end, but don’t sleep on last year’s Cowboys rookie to get even better in year two.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys got themselves an athletic tight end. After years of dabbling in Day 3/priority free agent supplements, the team finally splurged by using a second-round draft resource to secure the services of Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker. When you look at Schoonmaker’s height, speed, quickness, jumping ability, and just overall athletic scoring, he ranked 16th out of 1,105 tight ends over the last 37 years. That’s pretty darn good.

While the athleticism of Schoonmaker gives us a reason to be excited, we must also feel good about last year’s tight end investment, Jake Ferguson. A fourth-round pick from a year ago, Ferguson was viewed as a balanced player who, while effective, didn’t wow you as a blocker or pass catcher. He was the model of consistency at Wisconsin, catching a pass in all 47 games of his college career. You could set your watch to what you were going to get with him in the receiving game (stats courtesy of Sports Reference).

Jake Ferguson college stats

Year Class Pos Rec Yds Avg TD
Year Class Pos Rec Yds Avg TD
2018 FR TE 36 456 12.7 4
2019 SO TE 33 407 12.3 2
2020 JR TE 30 305 10.2 4
2021 SR TE 46 450 9.8 3
Career 145 1618 11.2 13

His pass-catching volume at Wisconsin was modest, and that’s because he was used primarily as an inline blocker. He didn’t have the size, strength, or even the fundamental chops to be a blocking ace, but he was alright and the Cowboys value tight ends who can handle inline responsibilities. The blah athleticism and moderate blocking ability made him a Day 3 prospect, but how he was used and his propensity to make plays suggested there could be some untapped potential there similar to Dalton Schultz.

To the surprise of many, Ferguson hit the ground running. Despite being behind Schultz on the depth chart, Ferguson still managed to start 16 games and catch 19 passes for 174 yards, including two touchdowns. It was a solid rookie season.

When you look at Ferguson’s body of work, there’s a lot to like. He is a really smart player who knows where he’s supposed to be and is very disciplined. He only had two penalties last season compared to six by fellow rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot. Even the veteran Schultz committed five penalties.

As a blocker, he’s very calculated with his moves. He sets his feet well and can sit and anchor. He’s very quick to pop off a double-team block and climb to the second level. He seals well on backside cutoff blocks. And while he’s not a strong player, his hand placement is solid and he twists his body and puts smaller defensive backs on the ground.

Ferguson’s solidness as a blocker transforms into the sneakiness of a receiver. Defenders have to respect him as an inline asset and that allows him to sell the block early and then sneak out as a pass receiver. His route-running is very ordinary as he doesn’t possess any threatening athletic traits, but his stealthiness can leave him uncovered at times. Despite his height and short arms limiting his overall catch radius, his concentration and body control allow him to snatch passes that aren’t always perfectly thrown. Ferguson caught all 19 of his catchable passes last year. In fact, he’s the only Cowboys player that started more than one game last year and didn’t drop a single pass. And while Ferguson’s athletic testing doesn’t necessarily measure out well, he has shown the ability to pluck high passes, juke defenders, and even jump over them if required.

Schoonmaker may be the future, and considering the investment, we are certainly hoping that’s the case. But at the same time, the Cowboys also have a well-balanced tight end in Jake Ferguson who is coming off a solid rookie season. The chances that we see continued growth and added production are pretty good. And it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see the group of Schoonmaker, Ferguson, and Hendershot emerge as one of the best young trios in the league.

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