It is the time when we focus on the draft, with an occasional amusing but totally implausible free agency rumor (today's totally ridiculous tale: Dallas interested in Chris Johnson). But, with the possible exception of the New York Giants and their 16 free agent signings (and counting), draft picks and free agents are going to be a distinct minority when the final rosters are set this fall. There are a lot of other things for teams to work on as OTAs and training camp draw nearer. Adding players is good, and getting injured vets back can be a big help, but the hope is that all the members of the roster will be working to improve themselves.
For the most part, the 2013 Dallas Cowboys draft class did as much as could be expected, and in some cases, went above and beyond, as several of the members were pushed prematurely into starting jobs due to the rash of injuries. But one of the draftees was almost missing in actions. Gavin Escobar, whose selection in the second round was, to put it mildly, unexpected by most, saw very little action at all. He only had nine receptions for 134 yards. It hardly seemed what you would expect from a second rounder. Almost the entire season went by without any evidence of what the team was trying to do by drafting him.
And then this happened.
Cowboys Gavin Escobar Helicopter Touchdown (via mckeesk)
It was an almost baffling moment. As Cris Collinsworth said during the broadcast, where was this all season?
So if he could do that, why was Escobar so underutilized for so much of the season? Many assumed that he just was not that good, and the play above was just an aberration. But that would mean that the draft pick was wasted on him.
I am hopeful that it was not a waste. I think that, instead, the team drafted him with certain plans in mind, but wound up having to abandon them.
Last year, based at least partly on Escobar's selection, but also on statements from Jason Garrett, the anticipation was that the Cowboys were going to be using a lot of the 12 package, or the two tight end set. We seemed to have hundreds of articles explaining the genius of this plan here on Blogging the Boys during the offseason. This would let the team get Escobar involved heavily in the offense, while also keeping all-everything player and senior statesman of the roster Jason Witten out there doing what he does. Escobar was believed to have a long term role as a possible replacement for Witten. However, that was for the future, and for now the intent was thought to be having both them on the field.
That almost immediately went out the window as the team started having problems from the start. It soon became apparent that the standard 11 personnel and the empty backfield were more productive for Dallas.
There are a lot of factors that played into this. First, things were not well in the playcalling arena. As has been discussed, cussed, analyzed, nitpicked, and pontificated upon, Bill Callahan just didn't seem to have a good handle on things. It seems that he just did not like the 12 package, or at least was not as comfortable with it as he was with working out of the 11 or 21 pages of the playbook. And it did not take long for it to become apparent that the Cowboys were in fact doing much better when they had at least three wide receivers on the field.
This greatly reduced the number of snaps Escobar was on the field, and it is hard to contribute when you are watching the offense from the sideline. With the Cowboys running predominantly one tight end formations, he was not going to push Witten, still the primary Tony Romo security blanket, off the field. This gets into the whole vicious cycle of Romo not being as comfortable with him because he never has him out there, so he doesn't look to go to him when he is. I don't think it is pure coincidence that his best play of the whole season came on a pass from Kyle Orton, who probably saw far more of Escobar while doing scout team work.
Now there is a new offensive coordinator for the Cowboys, and Scott Linehan has a certain amount of experience working with big, physical receivers. He should be able to find ways to get Escobar on the field with Witten and Dez Bryant, especially in the red zone. Escobar may become a de facto wide receiver in some sets, playing to his strengths, which so far do not include blocking well. One.Cool.Customer has already laid out the argument for Dallas to bring in another tight end in the draft. In it, he concedes that Escobar and James Hanna are not players in the Witten mode, but are more pure receiving targets. If the Cowboys find another way to address any perceived needs for a better blocker in the draft, then they could start putting Escobar on the field more for his ability to catch the ball.
This is one challenge the team has. Improving is not just about signing free agents and drafting players. It is about maximizing the talents of the players you have. With a second round pick invested in Escobar, Dallas needs to start getting some return on that.