If anything on offense has no questions, it’s the tight end position. Jake Ferguson led the Badgers in receptions (30), receiving yards (305), and touchdowns (4). Ferguson even improved as a run blocker during the season. When the Badgers’ receivers’ room was decimated by injuries, Ferguson was a marked man for opposing defenses and that seemed to slow him down in the final three games.
During that stretch, Ferguson only averaged two catches and just over 23 yards per game and no scores. Part of the decline was due to inaccuracies from Graham Mertz, but the offense lacked viable weapons around him.
Hayden Rucci also saw playing time last season. After losing the 2019 season with an arm injury, he was used primarily as a blocker in all seven games in 2020.
Jack Eschenbach managed to catch a couple of passes in limited time last fall. He seems to be more of a pass-catching tight end.
Jaylan Franklin also appeared in five games for the Badgers and blocked a punt against Wake Forest in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
This offseason, Wisconsin received huge news that Jake Ferguson was returning. Many thought Ferguson would declare for the draft; however, the All-Big Ten third team tight end’s decision to return for a fifth year gives the Badgers their top receiving threat back.
I’m expecting Jake Ferguson to have a shot at being the best tight end in the country with all the big-play receivers back and Graham Mertz developing more along with some of the younger receivers.
Hayden Rucci should be the primary blocking tight end; but he could see more pass-catching opportunities after demonstrating a solid grasp on blocking responsibilities, despite not having a spring practice to develop. If Rucci becomes a reliable receiving threat, this could add another dimension to the offense.
Clay Cundiff didn’t play at all for the Badgers in 2020; but, like Rucci, he is a blocking tight end and could be in the mix for a bigger role this upcoming season.
Jaylan Franklin and Jack Eschenbach need to develop their blocking skills and are very green right now. Both have high upsides and are athletic enough to become potential weapons in the passing game with a strong offseason. For an offense in need of more weapons, Franklin in particular could be one to watch as he learns the routes of an h-back.
Outside of the main group, freshman tight ends Cole Dakovich and Cam Large will benefit from having a “normal” spring camp to continue development. The tight end position is such a crucial part of the Wisconsin Badgers offense. It is a position that constantly needs coaching due to the requirements as a blocker and receiver in the offense. This offseason should make it easier for those two to have opportunities to contribute this season.
Four-star recruit Jack Pugh is a player worth paying attention to this spring, coming in as a mid-year enrollee. Pugh has a lot of learning to do, but his future is very bright in Madison.
The Badgers’ offense utilizes as many as three or four tight ends in a given season, leaving plenty of opportunities for younger players to step in and earn playing time with a strong offseason.
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