When Dalton Schultz was drafted in the fourth round this offseason, it was an attempt to replace at least a little of the production of Jason Witten who had surprised everyone with his decision to retire during the draft. Schultz was coming out of Stanford and had primarily been used as a blocking tight end for Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, and rarely saw time as a pass catcher.
The Cowboys had passed on other tight ends during the draft, some who were more accomplished pass catchers. Through most of the year, Dallas struggled to find any production out of any of their tight ends. Blake Jarwin had a troubling case of the drops, Rico Gathers and Schultz just never really made any impact, and Geoff Swaim finally started to emerge as a tight end weapon only to go down with an injury.
In Swaim’s absence, someone needed to step up as Swaim had become an integral part of the offense. Schultz is battling Jarwin to be the guy.
In the first 10 games, Dalton Schultz played an average of 10.14% of the Cowboys snaps. In these past four games, he's increased his average to 51.93%. @ktfuntweets @JC1053— Trey Jerkins (@Papa_Jerk) December 18, 2018
Yep. Jarwin has gone from 24.77% to 52.32%, Rico 13.26% to 16.03%. Swaim was playing 79.8% of the snaps before his injury— Trey Jerkins (@Papa_Jerk) December 18, 2018
Jarwin and Schultz have become the two tight ends that Dallas has used the most since Swaim went down, but the rookie is starting to impress for a first-year guy taken late in the draft. Schultz has started each of the last four games for the Cowboys, and he’s caught eight of the ten passes thrown his way in that time span. His targets have been gradually increasing.
Schultz’s ability as a receiver has really started to show the last two games. Against Philadelphia, he caught all three passes thrown his way and turned it into 37 yards - 12.33 yards per reception. Against Indianapolis this past week, Schultz was one of the very few bright spots in the offense’s zero-point performance; the tight end caught three of four passes that came his way for 23 yards.
Now, neither of these stat lines are particularly eye-popping, but they showcase a skill of Schultz’s that was thought to be his biggest weakness upon his being selected by the Cowboys. Initially, Schultz wasn’t given a heavy workload to start the season. This was both because he was a rookie and because he needed more time to develop his pass catching skills. The coaches have had to give him more snaps than they anticipated due to Swaim’s injury, but Schultz has responded in an impressive way. And this development in the receiving game isn’t his only strength.
Schultz has been impactful as a blocking tight end and has improved each week as well. Originally billed as an offensive lineman in a tight end’s body, Schultz struggled the first few weeks as he adjusted to the sheer strength of NFL defenses, but he’s come on strong in the last two months. Look no further than Schultz’s play against the Colts to see evidence of what he adds to the running game.
Another fantastic block from Dalton Schultz. Here he pins Al-Quadin Muhammad inside on the base block. Gives Rod Smith the ability to bounce outside. pic.twitter.com/MexnFnqV0j— John Owning (@JohnOwning) December 18, 2018
Watch Dalton Schultz ability in the run game on these two consecutive plays. Play 1: Washes DE down and reaches to the second level to get the MLB. pic.twitter.com/S6U8izOqEz— CowboysCutups (@CowboysCutups) December 18, 2018
Again, Schultz was one of the very bright spots on the offensive side of things this past week. In these two examples, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was an offensive lineman making those blocks because they’re so solid and technically sound. His awareness to push on to the second level is making him an asset in the rushing attack.
Schultz may not be a skilled enough pass catcher to earn the term “safety blanket” yet, but the progress he’s made since being given a larger share of snaps has been promising. If this development continues, Schultz could blossom into a legitimate do-it-all tight end who can block in the running game and make catches to move the chains. I thought he might have this kind of development curve back in June.
And the fact that Schultz is starting to hit on that potential has to be a great sign for the Cowboys. Perhaps it’s not enough to say that the Cowboys are set at the position (which they aren’t), but at the very least they look to have a young tight end with a lot of versatility and a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys manage Schultz’s snaps if/when Swaim returns, but for now let’s just keep watching this rookie’s development.