When the Cowboys decided to move on from Dalton Schultz and make second year player Jake Ferguson the de facto TE1, they were taking a gamble. For years Schultz has admirably held down the top tight end role in Dallas. He wasn’t flashy but he was well-rounded and fairly reliable.
Ferguson flashed all the same qualities. Like Schultz, Ferguson came into the league with a blocking background. Like Schultz, he also flashed enough pass catching potential to make the Cowboys believe they had something worth developing.
Nearly halfway into the season, it appears the move has paid off handsomely for Dallas.
While many in and around the team stated their confidence in Ferguson over the offseason, based on their actions in the draft, the Cowboys weren’t sold on him being the real answer at TE1. If they were, they likely wouldn’t have felt compelled to draft a TE with their second pick in the 2023 draft.
They looked at the situation for what it was: Ferguson was an inexperienced player with potential, but without pedigree or skins on the wall. He was fourth-round pick from Iowa with less than 20 NFL catches on his resume. He was a gamble.
It compelled Dallas to prioritize the TE position and arguably overdraft based on positional need. 58 picks into the draft, they pulled the trigger on Luke Schoonmaker, a 25-year blocking specialist from Michigan.
Not only has Ferguson fought off the competition and firmly held the top spot on the team, but he’s making a name for himself league-wide and claiming a top spot nationally.
Ferguson’s blocking has been a revelation for the Cowboys. They haven’t had a TE1 blocking this well in Dallas since the days Jason Witten still had hair. Filtering for those with over 300 snaps, Ferguson’s run blocking ranks fifth in the NFL this season. His pass blocking comes in at second in the NFL.
But it’s his receiving ability that’s really surprising people. In the age of specialist TEs, Ferguson is proving to be that true all-around prospect the Cowboys are famous for fielding. Using the same 300 snap threshold, Ferguson is ninth in the league as a pass catcher, posting an overall grade that ranks fourth in the NFL.
Ferguson is already in the NFL’s elite tier of complete TEs in just year 2. Adjusting for >300 snaps, Ferg ranks 5th in run blocking, 2nd is pass protecting, 9th in receiving, and grades 4th overall (per PFF). pic.twitter.com/OSNNuCNBb4
— Reid D Hanson (@ReidDHanson) November 7, 2023
His performance against the Eagles in Week 9 served as a national coming out party with him posting seven receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown. But it’s a progression those close to the team have seen coming for a while.
With four drops in just eight games, Ferguson hasn’t been flawless. But he’s catching 74.4% of his targets and Dallas QBs are still posting a 119.1 passer rating when targeting him. Most importantly, the entire offense elevates when Ferguson is on the field.
Dak Prescott has averaged 4.0 fewer yards per attempt with Jake Ferguson off the field this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 6, 2023
Per Next Gen Stats, the Cowboys offense sees a four-yard bump in yards/attempt, a 16.4% bump in success rate and a 16.0% boost in completion percentage when Ferguson is on the field. It’s a testament to his impact and a sign Ferguson is outperforming even the wildest expectations heading into the 2023 season.
Given the struggles of Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks downfield, Ferguson has been an integral part of the Cowboys passing offense this season and has made an argument as the No. 2 option for Dak Prescott.
With Ferguson still ascending, the sky is the limit for this former Day 3 draft pick.
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