You'll note, I hope, that the title picture features Gavin Escobar scoring a TD while Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor watches. This started something that no one thought could happen: the Cowboys coming back from ten points down at Century Link Field against Seattle.
But by and large the story has been that Escobar is a bust; a wasted second-round pick who has been unable to contribute. I'm going to examine that thought from a couple of different directions. First, I'll look at Escobar's first two years of contribution statistically against the two other "second round busts" Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. Then, in a follow up, I'll take a look at some plays that Escobar makes without being targeted and try to show the effect he has on the offense over and above his receiving ability.
Let's examine the straight-up stats against previous second-round TEs for Dallas.
Fasano: 28 receptions, 269 yds, 1 TD
Bennett: 35 receptions, 442 yds, 4 TD
Escobar: 18 recs, 239 yds, 6 TD
Two things should immediately jump out: Escobar has the fewest catches by a wide margin, but has more TD than both the others combined. That's a clue.
Per game, Escobar has half as many yards, half as many receptions, and twice as many TDs as Martellus Bennett. Perhaps Escobar has a little more explosion to his game?
Indeed, he does. Escobar averages 13.3 yards per catch, compared to Bennett's 12.6 and Fasano's 9.6. While that may be a product of fewer targets, it is true that Escobar does more damage on those occasions he catches the ball. But the targets themselves may also be a clue.
Bennett had 57 targets. Fasano, 45. Escobar, a mere 28. While some may criticize his ability to get open, it's far more likely that Escobar is suffering from playing his second year behind a prime Dez Bryant, an emergent Cole Beasley and a still-top-notch Jason Witten while Tony Romo made a career low 27 attempts per game.
Yet if you look at their second season in isolation, you could argue that Escobar was the most effective of the three previous TEs. He's still in last place with only nine receptions, but Bennett only had 15 and Fasano 14. The yardage, similarly, becomes much closer, with 105 for Escobar, 159 for Bennett, and 143 for Fasano. But the TD numbers are drastically different, with Escobar scoring four, Fasano one, and Bennett none, while Escobar expands his yards per reception advantage. Escobar has been very limited, yet you could argue that he's been the best of the three on a per opportunity basis. Here are their per target major stats:
Anthony Fasano: 0.62 receptions, 5.98 yds, 0.02 TD
Martellus Bennett: 0.61 receptions, 7.75 yds, 0.07 TD
Gavin Escobar: 0.64 receptions. 8.54 yds, 0.21 TD
Still we must ask, "are these important opportunities? Does Escobar make important catches, or does he just get empty yardage?" The TD numbers really give this away. Nonetheless, there is a stat called expected points added (EPA) which is basically a measure of how much a given play benefited a team. Here are their expected points added and EPA per target for the first two years of their career:
Fasano: -4.13 EPA, -0.91 EPA/Target
Bennett: 15.6 EPA, 0.27 EPA/Target
Escobar: 18.7 EPA, 0.67 EPA/Target
Now a funny thing happens. Not only do we see Escobar contributing more per target, but he actually contributed more as a receiver, on the whole, to the team than either Fasano or Bennett in their first two years. Escobar's catches may be fewer, but they have a much greater positive impact on the game.
The gold standard for a TE is Jason Witten. I don't think any Cowboys fan would argue that. Obviously, Witten plays much more than Escobar, but I've taken a look at Witten's per target stats from last season to get an idea of what a top-notch TE does:
Witten (2014, per target): 0.71 receptions, 7.81 yds, 0.06 TD, EPA 0.52
Obviously it's much easier to get these numbers over 28 targets than 90 and last year was far from a career year for one of the NFL's wiliest veterans. But this does show that Escobar is putting up some effective numbers on those rare occasions he is targeted. In part two, we'll look at some of the things he does when he's not the target.