Offensive Rookie of the Year – Jake Ferguson
Jake Ferguson has lived up to the hype.
The redshirt freshman tight end has done nothing but impress since arriving on campus. Ferguson was named the most valuable player on the scout team offense during his redshirt season last year and continued that upward trajectory through spring and fall practices. There was no question that Paul Chryst was going to find ways to get his athleticism and big-play ability on the field this season, the only question was how much.
At the beginning of the season, Ferguson was third in the pecking order at tight end behind Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston and was receiving limited snaps. However, he has gradually carved out a larger role from himself from week to week due to a few key developments.
There has never been much of a reason to doubt the threat Ferguson poses in the passing game, but it has been a work in progress to mold him into a more well-rounded tight end by improving his ability as a blocker. There is still plenty of room to improve, but his performance in that facet of the game so far in 2018 has been much better than expected, which has enabled Chryst to keep him on the field longer.
In addition, Neuville has been in an out of the lineup due to injury and is now out for the rest of the season, which has left the lion’s share of tight end reps to Ferguson and Penniston.
Ferguson has formed an increasingly strong connection with Alex Hornibrook with each passing game. He is currently second on the team in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, trailing only A.J. Taylor in each category.
Sit back and enjoy the ride Badger fans, because this is just the beginning of what is going to be a fun ride. Ferguson is way ahead of schedule in his development and looks every bit the part of a future All-American and NFL draft pick.
Runner-up: Aron Cruickshank
Aside from Ferguson, true freshman Aron Cruickshank is really the only other newcomer who has played meaningful snaps on offense, though the vast majority of his contributions have come on special teams as a kick returner.
Cruickshank’s offensive statistics amount to just 2 rushes for 12 yards. However, he has made an impact by setting the offense up with better field position as a result of his kickoff returns. He had a breakout game in that regard last week against Nebraska. Against the Huskers, Cruickshank used his electrifying speed to field 3 returns for 90 yards, with a long of 34.
After that performance, he now ranks fourth in the Big Ten in kick return average yardage and second in total kickoff return yards.
That wasn’t all he did to help the Badgers come out on top, though. Cruickshank is the smallest player on the entire roster at 5’9 and 154 pounds, but he is fearless and isn’t afraid to give or receive a big hit. He absolutely trucked a Nebraska defender to help Jonathan Taylor break free on his 88-yard touchdown run.
Considering how many weapons Wisconsin has, it’s difficult to envision Cruickshank earning much more of a role on offense as the season continues. That being said, his confidence has got to be pretty high right now after his big game against Nebraska, and that, combined with his vast reserves of natural talent, could make it worth Chryst’s while to try to throw a few more opportunities his way against Michigan and beyond.