The tight end position has seen an incredible amount of change in recent years. Some college and pro teams have come to view the position as an opportunity to create mismatches, as opposed to a blocker who gets to catch every once in a while.
But there is still a place for throw-back tight ends who can block like economy-sized linemen.
Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson walks the line between athletic receiver and blocking tight end. He manages to thread the needle between being athletic enough to threaten defenses down the field and powerful enough to block EDGE defenders. And while Ferguson doesn’t do either excellently, he does both pretty well.
The New York Giants will likely be in the market for at least one tight end this off-season as they rebuild the position. Could Ferguson be among their potential targets?
Prospect: Jake Ferguson (84)
Games Watched: vs. Illinois (2020), vs. Penn State (2021), vs. Notre Dame (2021), vs. Michigan (2021)
Games Played: 47
Yards (YPC): 1618 (11.2 per catch)
Games Played: 13
Yards (YPC): 450 (9.8 per catch)
Best: Blocking, hands, linear athleticism, play strength
Worst: Agility, versatility
Projection: A “Y” or H-Back in a West Coast or Air Coryell offense with starting upside, preferably one that runs a zone blocking system.
(Ferguson is TE number 84)
Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson has a good blend of size, athleticism, and blocking prowess to play the position at the NFL level.
Ferguson is a durable and experienced tight end, playing in 47 games over four seasons for the Badgers. He was primarily used as an in-line tight end, attached to either the left or right ends of the line. That said, he was also detached from the line in spread sets – though those were relatively rare in Wisconsin’s offense – and lined up as an H-back as well.
Ferguson weighs in at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, and while that is slightly undersized historically, it’s big enough for the modern NFL. He is a tough and competitive blocker in both the run game and as a pass protector. Ferguson has solid technique, generally keeping his pads low and striking defenders’ chest plates. He is typically at his best attached to the line of scrimmage as an in-line tight end and is a good blocker on zone schemes. Ferguson is also a capable pass protector, using his hands well to stymie defenders and has the ability to mirror defenders.
Ferguson is a capable pass catcher who is reliable enough to serve as a safety blanket, while also being able to use his size and long speed to threaten defenses vertically. He runs a fairly varied route tree – including routes from the H-back position – and does a good job of putting his body between the ball and defenders, as well as finding voids in zone coverage. Ferguson appears to be a “hands” catcher, extending to maximize his catch radius and puck the ball out of the air. He also refuses to go down easily after the catch, and can drag smaller defenders for extra yards after contact.
While Ferguson is a good linear athlete and appears relatively fast in the open field. However, he doesn’t have great agility, and that can pose a couple problems for him. The first is that he can appear lumbering when he needs to break sharply, and it’s easy for safeties and more athletic linebackers to stay with him through those routes.
Similarly, Ferguson can struggle when asked to block in space. He’s capable of physically dominating most off-ball linebackers and defensive backs, however he can struggle to get into position quickly enough, leading to inaccurate (or missed) blocks. Ferguson is also likely limited to a TE or H-Back position at the NFL level, as he lacks the movement skills to flex out to a Slot or Wide Receiver position.
Overall Grade: 6.9
Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson projects best as a traditional “Y” tight end, with the ability to play H-Back as well, in an offense which uses West Coast or Air Coryell principles. Essentially, he is a “Pro Style” tight end.
Ferguson has the ability to be an adequate “starting” tight end in an 11-personnel grouping, though he might lack the athletic traits to crack into the upper echelons of tight ends in the NFL.
He has solid play strength and can execute in man-gap schemes as long as he maintains his leverage. That said, Ferguson is clearly at his best in zone blocking schemes and he consistently executes those well. His ability to both block and run routes from an H-back position gives offensive coordinators further flexibility to run 11, 12, or simulate 21-personnel looks with Ferguson on the field. Likewise, he has enough straight-line speed to be useful threatening the seam or to be a Red Zone threat.
Coaches will need to be a bit careful with how they use Ferguson in their blocking schemes. He is at his best lined up on the line of scrimmage and can struggle some when asked to block in space. He can still be effective to a point, but more athletic defenders could likely slip his blocks and stay active in the play.
Overall, Ferguson is something of a throw-back to a previous era of offensive football. There certainly is still a place for his more straight-forward athleticism and game. However, he doesn’t quite have the dynamic athleticism to be a true mismatch, or be flexed across the offensive formation. Teams that value a more traditional tight end would likely have him graded much more highly than those looking for a “hybrid” tight end.