University of Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson announced Saturday he will return to the program for a fifth season and not declare for the NFL draft.
Ferguson has been one of the most consistent receiving threats for the Badgers over the past three seasons and earned All-Big Ten first-team honors from the Associated Press and Big Ten Conference media voters this year.
“These past four years being a Badgers has been a blessing and full of moments I will cherish forever,” Ferguson wrote in a social media post.
“Whether it was winning the Axe, all the different bowl game experiences, or even just the simple trips with the O-line to Chili’s, I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else with any other group of teammates coaches and fans. After a lot of self reflection and talking with my family, I am excited to announce that I have chosen to stay for my fifth year and play football for the University of Wisconsin. I believe my time at Wisconsin is not yet finished and also gives me the opportunity to graduate from one of the greatest universities! And for those keeping tabs, there will be one more year of #BarrysGrandson.
“Let’s get to work! On, Wisconsin.”
As anyone who watched a UW game on television heard, repeatedly, throughout his tenure with the Badgers, Ferguson is the grandson of UW athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez.
Ferguson led the Badgers with 30 catches, 305 receiving yards and four touchdowns this season, and has 99 catches for 1,168 yards and 10 scores in his UW career.
The 6-foot-5, 245 pounder was ranked as the seventh-best tight end in the 2021 draft class by The Draft Network.
His return to the Badgers deepens a tight end group that has a good deal of young talent, but would’ve been relying on unproven players had Ferguson made the jump to the NFL. He also emerged as one of the team's leaders through a difficult offseason and year on the field.
"With Jake, I think it just comes natural," tight ends coach Mickey Turner said of Ferguson's leadership.
"He’s not going to speak up if it’s not something he doesn’t believe in, so he’s not going to just rah-rah all the time. But when he’s out there, you know he’s invested and when he jumps up and he says something out loud, the team respects him because they know his body of work."
Breaking down the Badgers' recruiting class by position
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Deacon Hill (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
Quick analysis: Hill has a strong arm and shown enough in camps to rise to a four-star recruit on Rivals. Competition level is a question mark at the high school level, but he’s got the tools to be a good college quarterback.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Hill: Quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr “identified him really early. We thought he had great arm strength when you compared him to the best players in the country who were out there. We thought he was right there from the jump. … We really liked him, we felt personality-wise the people that surrounded him and supported him, how he worked, all those things were a great fit for us.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Jackson Acker (Madison), Loyal Crawford (Eau Claire), Antwan Roberts (Nashville, Tenn.)
Quick analysis: There’s been talk about Acker switching positions at the college level, but UW listed him as a running back Wednesday. Acker didn’t play in the fall due to COVID-19, but he has shown a good mix of speed and power as a ball carrier. … Crawford has a James White-level ceiling as a third-down back and the most shiftiness of the bunch. … Roberts has explosion and proven ability to run through tackles.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re all kind of unique. Jackson’s a guy that obviously would have position flexibility, but he kind of is explosive. … Then you see Loyal, and Loyal’s got great speed, great change of direction, a chance for a home run hitter. I think he’s got great quicks in and out and, again, I think all these guys, we’ll find out exactly where they’re at when they come in, but I think guys that are just really good football players as well. … Antwan, what he does to this point, complete back and had a great senior year.”
Number of players: 2
Who are they: Skyler Bell (Bronx, N.Y.), Markus Allen (Clayton, Ohio, expected to sign Wednesday evening)
Quick analysis: The Badgers landed two players who possess good speed and agility at arguably the biggest position of need in the class. … Bell has a suddenness to his cuts that makes him dangerous as a receiver and returner. … Allen shows good ball skills when making contested catches and great body control.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Bell, who wasn’t able to visit campus before committing: “I just think you take the time to reach out. Whether it was Zoom meetings with him and his family, or whether it was phone calls, you took the time to be able to answer questions that pop up in their minds. I think those things are always huge.”
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Jack Pugh (Columbus, Ohio)
Quick analysis: He has long strides that help him cover a lot of ground and he’s shown an array of route-running skills from both an on-line and split-out positions.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Pugh: “Jack played his first year of football last year. This was his second year. Really a guy that was a hoop player that jumped into it. Watching his film, I thought he was really physical for a guy that hadn’t played football. He was physical at D-end as well as tight end. I think he’s got the ability to separate. I think he’s got really a lot of speed and explosiveness.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: JP Benzschawel (Grafton), Riley Mahlman (Lakeville, Minn.), Nolan Rucci (Lititz, Pa.)
Quick analysis: The Badgers are set up to continue churning out great O-lines for years to come after an impressive haul of linemen in 2019. … Benzschawel is the third of his brothers to come to UW, and he’s shown great power and strength as a blocker. … Mahlman might be the most athletic of the bunch, having played tight end for a time in high school and as a basketball standout. … Rucci, the lone five-star recruit in the class, has all the tools to become an All-American tackle.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re big, athletic guys that you have to have as defenses are pretty darn athletic and being able to keep up with them. … I think those guys match in their work ethic and their mind-set, I think they’ll make a major impact here.”