Thanks to the release of Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys needed more insurance at the tight end spot behind Dalton Schultz seeing as Sean McKeon, who hasn’t proven much yet, was the only option behind him. The Cowboys filled that particular hole by drafting Jake Ferguson in the fourth round.
Dallas seems to be hitching their wagon to Schultz as a long-term deal may be on the horizon. However, Ferguson has an element to his game that Schultz struggles with, blocking. His jersey number, 48, once belonged to full-back Daryl “Moose” Johnston who was one of the best blocking fullbacks of his time and the man who paved the way for Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
Ferguson is well aware of the significance that the no. 48 brings in Dallas.
“Moose and (No.) 48,” Ferguson said, via the team website. “Some guys are like, ‘Oh, he’s (wearing) 48.’ I’m like, ‘You guys don’t know who wore 48.'”
The Cowboys had a lot of success running out of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) at the third-highest rate in the first eight weeks in 2021 by averaging 5.7 yards per rush and only allowing two sacks over that span. They only ranked 17th in 12 personnel in the second half of the season, and the running game suffered because of it.
Ferguson will play a huge part in the Cowboys getting back to more of that in 2022. Wisconsin is a program that runs the ball heavily so being able to block as a tight end is essential, which Ferguson and his 6-foot-5 frame showed he could do during his time with the Badgers.
Blocking isn’t something that Ferguson was keen on at first, but he eventually adapted to battling in the trenches, which will be a big part of him earning a roster spot with the Cowboys.
“Going to Wisconsin, that’s first, second, pretty much third down we’re blocking. If it’s six yards, we think we can get it on the ground and we’re going to go for it,” Ferguson said. “Finally getting through those five years at Wisconsin, that’s something I love doing. That’s all it is — a mindset in the trenches. You’ve got to love it”.
It didn’t take long for Ferguson to get some advice from a family member once he chose his number. His grandfather, former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, reminded him of the standard that the No. 48 with the Cowboys brings.
“He actually texted me and was like, ‘You better not be throwing shade on 48,'” Ferguson said while laughing.
Ferguson isn’t just a blocking tight end. Since 2018, he led the Big Ten in receptions (145), yards (1,614), and receptions for first downs (91) from the tight end position. That’s pretty impressive considering the Wisconsin offense doesn’t figure tight ends and isn’t known for elite quarterback play.
The Cowboys are a much better team when they control the line of scrimmage by running the ball well and letting Dak Prescott be effective with play-action off of that. Ferguson’s development as a blocker will be critical in keeping that going, and his added skills as a pass-catcher make him an intriguing prospect.
Feature image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports