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The Drive: Jazz

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NFL: Preseason-Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Ah yes the purgatory of the preseason in which even hope is treacherous.

“At last, at last, everything’s ahead. The smart ones say so and people listening to them and reading what they write down agree: Here comes the new. Look out. There goes the sad stuff. The bad stuff. The things-nobody-could-help stuff. The way everybody was then and there. Forget that. History is over, you all, and everything’s ahead at last.” —Toni Morrison Jazz

We’ve been cautioned and we’ve been warned. It doesn’t mean anything, the preseason. Or if it means anything it’s oracular at best. Lo but a hack scribe’s gotta write about something, doesn’t he? He does and he will. The purview of this hack scribe is game tape.

All-22 video is not publicly available for preseason games. We’re left analyzing what we can see, which isn’t always a lot.

3RD & 8 AT SEA 35(12:24)

(12:24) (Shotgun) P.Lynch pass deep left to J.Ferguson pushed ob at DEN 40 for 25 yards (T.Marshall). PENALTY on DEN-S.Cravens, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at DEN 40.

Ferguson, which incidentally means “son of the angry one,” gets a clean release against Trey Johnson.

Jazz evades Johnson and achieves outside position off the snap. Which is why Paxton Lynch is confident tossing a jump ball in Jazz’s direction, even though he likely can’t read exactly how open Jazz will be when the ball arrives.

Interior pressure causes Lynch to loft a jump ball from a nearly flat-footed stance.

Which leads to a modestly underthrown pass which Ferguson has to break off his route and find.

The pass arrives in a queasy middle ground: not high enough to be properly high-pointed but too lofty to be caught on a line. The receiver will be put into a defenseless position by leaping to make the catch but the pass will be low enough that the defender will have ample opportunity to slap at the ball and the receiver’s hands. The window, so much as it is a window, is the space Ferguson is able to create by boxing out the defender. It’s enough.

Johnson immediately begins raking at Ferguson’s arms. But the catch is fully secured, and Ferguson achieves six yards of run after the catch—running backward—before being tackled at the 40 by three defenders. It’s ... it’s impressive.

Su’a Cravens is charged with unnecessary roughness for his actions in the gang tackle. Tack those 15 yards to Ferguson’s stat line, because he earned them.

3RD & 3 AT DEN 6(03:53)

(3:53) (Shotgun) P.Lynch pass short right to J.Ferguson for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

This one’s simple.

Win off the snap.

Possess the grip strength of Alexander Zass.

Ferguson achieves almost no separation from the defender. His hands define this play. When the play is a touchdown reception, that’s a damn fine thing to say about a receiver.

(Need a little schadenfreude to leaven the heaviness of life? Go watch Paxton Lynch attempting to celebrate with his teammates after throwing this touchdown. Thank mercy for Blitz.)

1ST & 10 AT SEA 31(01:37)

(1:37) P.Lynch pass deep right to J.Ferguson to DEN 47 for 22 yards (S.Thomas).

Hands comprise the foundation of the receiver’s hierarchy of needs. No receiver can succeed without them. Some receivers can succeed with almost nothing but. Hands are not defined by crazy one-handed grabs receiving from the Jugs machine. A receiver’s hands are defined by his ability to find the ball and secure it while a defender or defenders are intimidating him, disrupting his body position, battering his hands and arms, and/or bearing down on him with frightening speed.

We’re far too inclined to praise the hands of, say, Big Mike Williams, when it is the hands of Slow Old Man Steven Largent which win the game. It ultimately didn’t matter a damn how often Largent caught the ball in his body. Just like it didn’t matter a damn how often Williams could one-hand a fireball arriving opposite his momentum. Securing the catch in the bedlam of game action—however achieved; however ugly that achievement—is the essential skill.

The second most essential skill of a receiver is route running. A receiver must run a route which both achieves separation and is reasonably similar to what he was assigned.

You’ve probably seen it. I am not going to do it justice in stills. The snappiness and separation achieved by Jazz’s second move is fire.

He times his leap well,

fights off two defenders,

and requires four to be tackled.

1ST & 10 AT SEA 5(11:19)

(11:19) (Shotgun) P.Lynch pass short right to J.Ferguson to SEA 6 for 1 yard (J.Dineen, J.Watson).

Gary Jennings Jr. blows his block.

That’s it. That’s all we have. That, a good showing at the NFL Combine, and a lot of innuendo about bad choices and mistakes made.

Setting aside discussion of the authoritarian creep of employers into the private lives of their employees, and the extralegal way in which employers punish employees without due process, Jazz is clearly too damn good to have been undrafted. Hidden in the ambiguity of whatever led to him being dismissed from LSU is something I am guessing was pretty bad. But he’s here now. Truly, everything’s ahead at last.

A player may succeed for one play, one game, even every so often one whole season, and never succeed similarly ever again. Football is a flukish game partly defined by unexpected ascents and collapses. Jazmond isn’t a great deal more likely to be a star wide receiver than he was a week ago. Of course. But those players who transcend expectations, who achieve despite being drafted late or not at all, often begin to excel as soon as they are given an opportunity. This is especially true of wide receivers who contributed in their first seasons. Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown and TY Hilton, to name a few, all played very well in their first preseason. I linked each of those names to the game log of their rookie season, including the preseason. As a group, those players averaged 7.7 receptions, 106.7 receiving yards, and 0.67 TDs in their first preseason. Not bad for what was probably three or fours halves of football, I’d say.

Jazz has it. He has the talent and I think he has the skills too. He looks like he has legitimate hands which will flash in game action, route running which will create separation against NFL-caliber defenders, and run after catch skills which will help maximize every reception. The defenders he faced were, according to my research, very poor. Fringe guys who only play in August. Pro players excel at disappearing the skills of semi-pro players, and what looked promising against the likes of the Broncos’ z-string may not look nearly as promising against another team’s starters. But Jazz did what he could against the competition he faced. He ascended.

Dante envisioned a purgatory in which those in the highest circle must walk through a wall of fire to reach Earthly Paradise. In Wordsworth’s translation, of this place he wrote:

And I believe that them this mode suffices,

For all the time the fire is burning them;

With such care is it needful, and such food,

That the last wound of all should be closed up.

Walk into that wall of fire, Jazz Ferguson, and heal thy wounds.