20 on '20: Tight end Jake Ferguson and the Wisconsin Offense

Talking about a much-used position for Wisconsin's offense.
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As Wisconsin football student-athletes started "voluntary athletics activities" on June 15 -- AllBadgers.com wanted to begin a series dedicated to the program entering a 2020 season that is supposed to start on Sept. 4 against Indiana.

I had some questions as to the parameters, however. Do we highlight breakout or "most important" players according to a specific set of standards?

Perhaps we look at the biggest concerns with a team returning many starters and contributors but has specific questions needing to be answered at key positions?

In that light, AllBadgers.com presents its "20 on '20" series where we dissect (you guessed it) 20 topics pertaining to the football program. For those needing to catch up, here is the series so far:

Topic No. 9: Jake Ferguson and What 2020 Could Bring

We can talk all about who will step up behind the redshirt junior if the 2020 season takes place. Yes, Cormac Sampson is back with the offensive line after playing in 13 games at tight end last year. Luke Benzschawel announced his retirement from football earlier in 2020, but Gabe Lloyd, Jack Eschenbach, Coy Wanner, Hayden Rucci and Clay Cundiff all return. True freshmen Cam Large and Cole Dakovich also enter Mickey Turner's room.

However, what should be expectations for Ferguson? Since his redshirt freshman season in 2018, the Madison (WI) Memorial product has asserted himself as TE1.

He has played in all 27 contests since his redshirt freshman campaign and finished second on the team in receptions both years. The 2018 campaign saw him haul in 36 receptions for 456 yards and four touchdowns, and he emerged as a key third-down target in his first full season as a contributor.  

With the return of Quintez Cephus at wide receiver last year, the passing attack once again averaged over 200 yards per game. That was a feat that had not been accomplished since Paul Chryst's first season at Wisconsin in 2015. 

With the talent at wide receiver in Cephus, A.J. Taylor, Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis -- along at running back with Jonathan Taylor -- Ferguson still found ways to contribute and connected with quarterback Jack Coan with success. He finished the season with 33 receptions for 407 yards and two touchdowns. Against Michigan State and Illinois during a two-game October stretch, he reeled in a combined nine catches for 139 yards and a first-quarter, third-down score against the Illini.

Wisconsin's offense will not see Cephus, Taylor and Taylor -- who collectively recorded 108 receptions last year -- on the field this season. For the offense to continue its success in 2020, they will need to find those who emerge at receiver and running back, but they will also have to lean upon its standout tight end. Obviously those two position groups will play roles in replacing that production, but it should be interesting just how Ferguson affects an offense needing to compensate for the loss of such key players.

Those aforementioned stats above are just for the passing game, but of course Ferguson can block, too. That is what makes his skillset so valuable. He can play on the line with a hand in the ground, motion as an H-back and work out of the slot in 11 personnel. 

That is why I am optimistic about what could be for Ferguson in 2020. At the moment, he appears to be potentially another player who could continue the program's tradition of sending tight ends to the next level.