Here in the next few weeks, I want to make sure I get to the checklist of post-draft activities that I might have delayed this year for certain “playoffs in other sports” reasons locally. Yes, it is possible the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns versus the Mavericks (not to mention those Calgary Flames against the Stars) have helped delay my looks at all of the draft picks I had not studied properly.
So, for each of the next three weeks, I will grab two of the Cowboys’ front office Day 3 picks and see what we can see. This always is a fun activity to meet these guys and try to put ourselves in the war-room seats to try to understand the Cowboys’ ultimate vision.
Now, we should also remember that 170-some picks into the draft, there may not be a grand vision as much as there might be one decent name or so that is left on our board, so grab that one while we still can. This is what Day 3 often is. Shots in the dark or players with a blemish or two on their resume. If they were perfect, they might already be taken. But, we surely know how many amazing players are uncovered deep in draft history with three digits as their pick number. We will pick two players each of the next three weeks — we’ll start with Jake Ferguson and John Ridgeway.
Let’s get started.
Allow me to direct you to our piece from last week where we summarized the overall draft strategy. We walked you through the passage about the fourth-round situation where Dallas clearly had a tight end earmarked.
Unfortunately, some of their versatile tight ends — Ruckert and Otton both went at No. 101 and No. 106, respectively, and Dallas was well out of range. The coverage of the draft seemed to indicate that the media really fancied Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar over Wisconsin’s Ferguson, but our sources told us that Kolar was not nearly proficient enough as a blocker to suit Dallas’ desire to get a “True Y” who would allow Dalton Schultz to do more of what he does well as a receiver and less of what he doesn’t do well as a blocker.
Ferguson was the choice at No. 129 after Kolar was snagged at No. 128 by Baltimore. This was a source of frustration to the media, but again, we have been told that if both were available, they were still taking Ferguson because of his blocking ability. He is not an elite blocker, but he is a capable blocker and when you are produced by Wisconsin, you have certainly been given plenty of reps and training in the field. Further, he has tremendous hands and while his 40 time is nothing to write home about (4.73 at his pro day), his 3-cone drill (7.03) is much more of a wide receiver than tight end (like Schultz, by the way), which might suggest he will be quite handy in tight spaces.
Ferguson will allow more 12 personnel and more early-down running. Especially with big Tyler Smith who has a long way to go, but run blocking will be his forte. If this is true, we can forget about the Cowboys being 31st in first-down runs after the bye week last year. They will actually unclog the pipeline of productivity on early downs and that should unlock the entire passing game when it matters most later in the sequences, not to mention help play-action because there will be an actual threat of damaging runs at some point soon.
Now, that is re-established, let’s proceed by digging more into Ferguson’s tape:
Pick 4/129: Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin (6-5, 250), Jersey No. 84
To suggest that Ferguson grew up destined to play at Wisconsin is a massive understatement. He was born in Madison and is the grandson of Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez. If you are unfamiliar with his career, just know that Wisconsin was at the bottom of the pecking order in major college football for decades and then Alvarez elevated them in 1990 to their present-day status where they are almost always ranked and “in the mix.” I testify with conviction that if Alvarez ever wanted a favor, almost every resident of Wisconsin would offer him two. Regardless, Ferguson being Alvarez’s grandson was a label that he will finally shed slightly now that he will be playing outside of that city for the first time in his life.
Anyway, back to his path to this point. He stepped right in as the main tight end for the Badgers in 2018 after redshirting. From that year until 2021 when he was a senior, he posted four very similar years of more than 30 catches and more than 400 yards (save the shortened 2020) as well as multiple touchdowns. He caught everything and dropped nothing over those four seasons for a school that has produced a fair number of tight ends in the NFL in recent years. Like Iowa — the gold standard — Wisconsin provides a dual-threat and old-school tight end who run blocks as often as he is in routes. This, of course, is counter to the modern college game when some teams either do not use traditional tight ends at all or they are just a bigger version of a wide receiver in the slot. Not at Wisconsin. He played more than 2,000 snaps at Wisconsin and 1,800 of them were as an attached inline tight end, with only about 280 in the slot. Iowa State’s Kolar played more snaps in the slot last year than he ever did as a traditional inline tight end. They didn’t want one of those.
(Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com)
(Measurables courtesy of Mockdraftable.com)
Games studied: Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Penn State
Positives: When you put on the tape of Ferguson, he is exactly what you would expect from a Wisconsin tight end. He gets after it and gets his hands dirty. He is definitely an asset to the run game with effort, but will not be winning every matchup. His route running is somewhat limited, but in the underneath game he can do what you need with a knack for finding the soft spots in zone and getting yardage in a way that will make you wonder if they think he can be Dalton Schultz soon. He has plus hands and caught everything thrown his way in tight areas. In the red zone, he can get things done and occasionally challenge the seams.
Jake Ferguson really intrigues me pic.twitter.com/aIUlKs4sCV
— 00 (@00Jets) March 1, 2022
Concerns: The reasons that players like this last this deep in the draft — despite the scarcity of true dual-threat tight ends — is that he is not thought of as a plus athlete. His 40 is poor, his vertical is poor, and his bench press was non-existent. When teams are drafting prospects, they love their traits (draft Twitter loves traits even more, by the way). He is not going to be a big traits guy at all, but his 3-cone does match his tape in that he has some elusiveness after the catch. But, he isn’t running away from anyone. Of course, how often does a running back run away from NFL defenders, anyway? The issue with him is that he is a dual-threat, but it remains to be seen if he can be “starting caliber” at either blocking or catching. He is solid and was very good in college, but there are limits to his game, we concede.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 7, 2022
Overall: I am certainly partial, but I have always been a fan of his work. He is a dependable tight end and I think that is always a position where I want that over traits. I want guys who are where they need to be and do what they are asked to do and Ferguson will get that done. Again, is he an eventual starter? We have no idea. But, he has a chance to get the Cowboys back in 12 personnel and replace Blake Jarwin. Or, perhaps, he is replacing the inline tight end, which allows Schultz to detach and play the Jarwin role more himself.
Jake Ferguson at 6’5” 250 pounds is a wrecking ball after the catch. Very physical player when going for contested catches as well. Go to third down player for Wisconsin. @ArrowheadLive pic.twitter.com/qXdBg1GBsJ
— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) March 31, 2022
Pick 5/178: John Ridgeway, Arkansas (6-5, 320), Jersey No. 99
Our amazing Dane Brugler wrote this in John Ridgeway’s biographical information in this year’s Beast: “He was a four-year letterman in wrestling, posting a 3-23 record as a freshman and 8-17 record as a sophomore. After finishing fourth at the state championships as a junior, Ridgeway became the second state championship wrestler in school history as a senior when he won the 2017 Class 2A heavyweight title, pinning the No. 1 wrestler in 3:09.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but if any kid I know goes 11-40 in his first 51 wrestling matchups, chances are pretty good that A) he never wants to see a wrestling mat again and B) he is never going to be a state champion. The fact that he stayed with it and became the Illinois State Wrestling champion tells you quite a bit about this guy who played four years at Illinois State before his final year at Arkansas where he made a very nice impression. The other detail is that he lettered in bass fishing which apparently is something you can letter in.
(Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com)
(Measurables courtesy of Mockdraftable.com)
Positives: He is a very big man who is going to be in charge of doing things nobody else likes to do on the defense. These are the jobs of space-eating defensive tackles who can either play the nose or the one-technique in most run-down fronts. Occupy the center and guard as well as you can and then try to make a play on the ball. However, the name of the game is keeping others clean so that they can make that play and he does that with gusto. He uses his wrestling background to stand his ground. He is not nearly as hefty as last year’s sixth-rounder Quinton Bohanna, but the two of them can put 700 pounds in the middle so that you don’t get run over like the days of Mike Nolan’s crew in 2020. He has a long wingspan and an impressive motor, which is all we want out of the grunts in the middle.
Arkansas DT John Ridgeway could be a mid-round steal. Power and measureables could find him contributing to the Raiders, with the ability to push the pocket and stop the run.@FullPressNFL #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/9MSOmayv3k
— Full Press Raiders (@FPCRaiders) March 21, 2022
Concerns: As you can imagine, running a 5.3 and having an 8-5 broad jump will not get him in the Olympics, so don’t look for a twitched-up athlete here. He will not be rushing the passer nor collapsing the pocket. His technique could stand seasoning and you have to use him in the right way to make sure we are emphasizing his strengths.
John Ridgeway III is going to be surrounded by three Alabama offensive linemen here. He will then break out of it and go to help out on a tackle. Not on the stat sheet. If you’re looking at the stat sheet for nose tackles, we have a problem. pic.twitter.com/WLZ91KrCvJ
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) March 10, 2022
Overall: At Pick 178, you are seriously filling out the back of your roster. Ridgeway appears to have the type of makeup and backstory that could make fans fall in love with his possibilities, and Cowboys fans always note the Razorback presence. I think that given this team’s need to acquire inside beef in midseason deals in the past few years verifies that you can never have enough 23-year-olds who want to do this for a living inside. He and Bohanna should provide clean pathways for linebackers to blow up stuff on early run downs this year.
(Top photo of Jake Ferguson: Dan Sanger / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)