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Seahawks want WR Jazz Ferguson to answer a single question

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Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

In the 2019 NFL Draft the Seattle Seahawks went heavy at the wide receiver position as they looked to fill the void that would be created by the impending departure of Doug Baldwin. The team started by taking DK Metcalf in the second round, added Gary Jennings in the fourth round and then finally traded back into the draft to add John Ursua. That’s a lot of digging at the wide receiver position, but that wasn’t even the end of it, as Pete Carroll and John Schneider stayed stuck on receivers while signing undrafted free agents as well.

In particular, the Hawks added big bodied outside threat Jazz Ferguson, who is an intriguing prospect. The biggest red flag for Ferguson outside of having been dismissed from LSU for academics is the simple fact that he played at FCS Northwestern State. Thus, the level of competition he faced is far from that which other wide receiver prospects would have seen in the Big XII or SEC. However, the Seahawks have had success pulling prospects out of Northwestern State, where Jeremy Lane starred before becoming a sixth round pick in 2012. In addition, the Hawks have not shied away from bringing in small school receivers, such as David Moore, who competed at Division II East Central University.

So, keeping all that in mind, how much can be learned from Ferguson’s lone season of performance? For starters, since Ferguson faced off against lower level competition for much of the season, domination is what one would like to see. Luckily for Ferguson fans, domination is what is seen in his numbers.

Jazz Ferguson 2018 gamelog for Northwestern State Demons

Opponent Targets Catches Yards TD
Opponent Targets Catches Yards TD
Texas A&M 7 4 129 1
Grambling 9 7 74 1
Lamar 7 4 143 2
SE Louisiana 9 6 117 0
Nicholls State 5 2 54 0
Sam Houston State 14 9 138 2
Central Arkansas 10 8 108 0
Houston Baptist 12 8 90 2
Abilene Christian 9 4 82 3
McNeese State 15 9 112 2
Stephen F Austin 6 5 70 0
Total 103 66 1117 13

I want to highlight two pieces of that table. The first is his performance against Texas A&M, the only FBS competition he faced in 2018. It’s not the prettiest stat line with just four receptions on seven targets, but for those who have defended DK Metcalf based on poor quarterback play, feel free to watch every snap Ferguson played against the Aggies and see how accurate his quarterback was.

For those who don’t want to watch the entire five minute plus video of Ferguson against A&M, I get that, so here’s the Cliff Notes version in a single play.

That’s an early, unrefined version of the double move Ferguson displayed in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos that caught the attention of fans and observers where he shows an inside break before heading deep. Obviously, that move was still raw, and he’s improved his technique on it greatly in the eleven months since the Demons opened the 2018 season against A&M. The crispness of the move he displayed against Denver contrasted to the more rounded technique against the Aggies is notable, and shows development as a receiver over the past year. Here’s the clip of his move against the Broncos for those who don’t recall or turned off the game because they’re not enough of a junkie to stay up and watch the second half of a preseason game (with some bonus analysis from Matty F. Brown included free of charge).

So, we’ve seen Ferguson’s double move against something resembling an NFL cornerback, let’s get back to the second thing I want to highlight from his gamelog above. Specifically, let’s take a look at the five game stretch starting with Sam Houston State through McNeese State.

Jazz Ferguson five game domination gamelog

Opponent Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Opponent Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Sam Houston State 14 9 138 2
Central Arkansas 10 8 108 0
Houston Baptist 12 8 90 2
Abilene Christian 9 4 82 3
McNeese State 15 9 112 2
Total 60 38 530 9

That’s the kind of domination one would like to see against lower level competition. Without the defensive backs to slow down Ferguson in one on one coverage, some defenses took went to extremes to defend him, which included Ferguson facing triple coverage at times.

That said, when Ferguson did see single coverage, he was able to show off the athleticism and sideline catches that Russell Wilson loves to throw to receivers with sideline talent, like Baldwin and Tyler Lockett.

And here’s a catch at the perimeter for a touchdown.

And here’s what can only be described as a long armed athletic snag down the sideline.

One of the things that stands out when watching Ferguson play is how he’s able to combine his size and natural athleticism to make plays, specifically on jump balls. He showed that against the Broncos in the preseason opener.

Which was a repeat of the jump ball skills he demonstrated in college.

But what unquestionably stands out most from the first two preseason games is that the Hawks appear to be testing Ferguson to see if he can be the same kind of dominant red zone force he was in college. Much of the attention regarding red zone threats for the Hawks has been on DK Metcalf, but more of his touchdowns came on deep passes than from inside the red zone. Specifically, Metcalf had 14 touchdown receptions during his time at Ole Miss, with those touchdowns coming from the following play type:

  • 7 TD receptions on deep passes,
  • 2 TD receptions on WR quick hooks on what is effectively a WR screen where he ran it in after the catch and
  • 5 TDs on jump ball and fade routes.

It’s that last category I’m most interested in, and this is not a knock on Metcalf in any way. Between his build and athleticism, he certainly has the ability to develop into a Jimmy Graham-style box out/jump ball threat in the red zone, it’s simply a fact that while he displayed the ability to be a red zone jump ball threat at times in college, he had more touchdowns on long passes where he got behind the defense. Those are just facts, which are nothing more than the result of the way his coaching staff used him. He is a red zone threat, and he’s also a threat to score from anywhere on the field, it’s just that while in college he had more long distance touchdowns than he did Jimmy Graham-circa-2017 style touchdowns.

That said, it’s no secret the Hawks have been searching for a big bodied red zone threat since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived. In 2010 they brought in Mike Williams. In 2011 they signed Sidney Rice to a big contract as a free agent. In 2014 they added Chris Matthews. In 2015 they traded for Jimmy Graham. And on and on the list goes, up to and including the selection of Metcalf in the second round this past spring.

However, Metcalf might have some competition in Ferguson for the role as a Graham-style red zone target. In particular, the Seahawks seem intent on finding out whether Ferguson can replicate his college red zone performance in the NFL. In short, it seems the Seahawks desperately want to find the answer to a single question regarding Ferguson this preseason: Can he consistently come down with the jump ball/fade throw in a one on one matchup in the red zone?

They asked this question in preseason Week 1 against the Broncos and got a yes.

Then they asked this question again in the second Week of preseason against the Minnesota Vikings and got a no.

The reason they want this question answered is because Ferguson showed that this is something he could do against lower level competition in college.

And it wasn’t just a one time thing. He showed that he could do it over

and over

and over

and over

and over

and over

and over.

(Author’s note: Even though those last two highlights appear as though they might be the same based on the thumbnail, they’re not. I promise the defensive back ends up on the ground in the first highlight, while he stays on his feet in the second. Also, a couple of those highlights are two point conversions rather than touchdowns, but I’ve included them as they demonstrate the same ability to come down with the ball when targeted in one-on-one coverage in the red zone).

Thus, there’s no question that fans and observers will debate until they’re blue in the face whether Ferguson will make the roster over fourth round pick Gary Jennings or one of the other names in competition for the outside spots. With just ten days between now and roster cuts on August 31, that debate will certainly become heated.

However, based on the evidence through the first two preseason games, it seems as though the answer to whether Ferguson lands on the 53 or not may come down to a simple yes/no question. In short, can he consistently come down with the ball against NFL defensive backs in the red zone? If, over the course of the preseason games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders, that answer proves to be yes, expect Ferguson to land on the 53. If it’s questionable or doubtful after those two games, the answer will likely be no.

It’s likely as simple as that, because if Ferguson can demonstrate an ability to be that red zone mismatch who can come down with the ball consistently, the team will find a place for him on the roster.