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Cowboys 2018 Draft: Could the Cowboys grab a tight end on the first two days?

Will the Cowboys want to go ahead and draft Jason Witten’s successor?

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-South Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The growing consensus is that the Cowboys will draft a prospect from at least one of the following positions in the first two rounds: wide receiver, linebacker, and offensive guard; but what about out-of-the box options? This new short series will lead up to the draft and take a look at other positions the Cowboys can consider early. Today, we’ll look at tight end.

If you read our FPW “slam dunk” and “shaking your head” picks, you’ll realize that we have no idea where the Cowboys will go come Thursday evening. Some want to draft a guard to solidify the offensive line, whereas others want a defensive tackle to sure up the middle of the defense. Others believe a Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore would take this offense to another level, while many hope the Cowboys stay away from wide receiver on the first night of the draft.

The point is: Dallas has many different routes to choose from.

That said, what if the Cowboys want to address a position of need that many aren’t talking about as a potential day one or day two pick: tight end. Sure, Jason Witten says he wants to continue to keep playing; but for how long? Rico Gathers showed some promise last August, but concussions derailed his season and he didn’t play a snap of regular season football. Can the hoops star transition to the NFL game and become a reliable tight end? And then, James Hanna called it a career on Friday, as he announced his retirement.

BTB’s own RJ Ochoa recently wrote a piece on the fact that ‘Gold Jacket Witt’ has outlived many, many tight ends during his career in the Big D.

James Hanna’s six-year NFL career came to an end when Dallas put him on the reserve/retired list due to a longstanding knee injury, and the move served as yet another reminder at how many tight ends Jason Witten has outlasted.

Gold Jacket Witt was taken in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft by Bill Parcells and his staff, but can you really name the tight ends the team has drafted since then that they’ve moved on from? The Witten Five grew to The Witten Six with James Hanna.

Isn’t it amazing, I’m talking absolutely astonishing, that the Cowboys have taken three tight ends in the second round over Witten’s career?!

Could this be the year that the Dallas Cowboys finally find Witten’s successor? Here are points for and against spending an early pick on the tight end position this week.

Why it could make sense

Jason Witten, 35, has been with the Cowboys’ organization for 15 seasons dating back to his draft day in 2003. The Tennessee Volunteers legend has had quite the career and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest to ever do it at the tight end position in NFL history. The records that he has set, the toughness that he showed, and the standard that he has established within the Cowboys’ franchise has made him the GOAT.

Unfortunately, though, the man that Ezekiel Elliott calls Gold Jacket Witt does not have many seasons left in the NFL. The wear-and-tear of playing in the NFL, combined with his age and the legacy he has created, makes it reasonable to believe that it won’t be long before he decides to hang them up. Additionally, television networks have contacted Witten to gauge his interest in becoming a commentator. He even recently auditioned for a role on Monday Night Football.

Witten will be back in uniform for the 2018 season, but that does not mean that the Cowboys can just sit around and wait for their legendary tight end’s career to come to a close. Instead, it would be much smarter to be proactive and get out in front so that they are prepared when the time comes.

Drafting a tight end early would help on two accounts: one, a replacement and potential successor for the future Hall-of-Famer. Two, a new weapon for the offense and for Dak Prescott. Though Witten typically has sure hands, he isn’t a threat to stretch the field or make defenses lose too much sleep anymore. Spending a premium pick (first- or second-round) on a tight end prospect could give this team a red-zone threat and potentially, depending on who the guy is, a weapon to hurt defenses in the middle of the field.

Why it doesn’t make sense

On the flip side, there are a few reasons why this would not be the best decision. Let’s take a look at them:

1. Bigger needs at other areas.

This is probably the biggest argument against taking a tight end early. While there certainly is a potential need at tight end, it isn’t as drastic as the holes that need to be filled at other areas.

A tight end would almost be a luxury pick for this squad; and, for a team that has too many needs, that may not be the best route to go down. Jason Witten will be on the team and ready to go this fall. He isn’t the threat he used to be, but Dak still found the veteran 63 times for 560 yards and five scores in 2017.

Furthermore, it appears that this organization has put some resources into Rico Gathers. The 2016 sixth-round selection was set to possibly have a role in this offense before complications with a head injury shut him down. Blake Jarwin, another tight end, was picked up late last season and was added to the 53-man roster. The Cowboys appear to be high on the Oklahoma State product as well. Would the Cowboys want to spend a first or second-round selection on a potential third- or fourth-stringer?

2. Rico Gathers.

Building off of that last part, the Cowboys liked what they saw from the former Baylor Bears star basketball player last August. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound athletic freak caught three balls for 59 yards, and a score versus the Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game. Then, he grabbed four passes for 47 yards, including one 25-yarder, and a touchdown against the Rams in last year’s preseason meeting. Unfortunately, the head injury he suffered last August did not allow us to see any more of him in 2017.

Gathers ended up making the 53-man roster before being placed on IR, showing that there is real belief from the Cowboys’ organization in the former hoops star.

Additionally, Gathers is hungry. He is ready to “be the next best tight end in this league”. Check out what he wrote on his Instagram page in February:

Drafting a tight end could potentially hinder Gathers’ development.

3. Can the Cowboys be trusted with picking a tight end early?

The Cowboys have had trouble drafting a tight end early. RJ pointed out the “Witten Six” — three of which were second-round selections. So, would it be smart for the Cowboys to invest a premium pick on a position that they seem to not be able to figure out?

Gavin Escobar was player that Jason Garrett thought highly of. The Cowboys selected the tight end out of San Diego State in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Garrett proclaimed that he had “no regrets” about that pick. Two other tight ends — Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and Jordan Reed of the Redskins — were selected after Escobar.

Will the Cowboys be able to not only find the right guy, but also be able to utilize him properly? That remains to be seen.

The Candidates

That said, what if the Cowboys want to go ahead and find Jason Witten’s eventual replacement in this draft class? Maybe there is a guy out there that Will McClay wants. If that is the case, here are some names to know at the tight end position...

  • Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
NCAA Football: South Dakota State at Texas Christian Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Goedert is one of the more highly-rated prospects at his position in this draft class. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound athlete comes from a small school, but possesses athleticism from his basketball days that could help him transition to the NFL level. He also knows how to go up and get the football, as well.

Pros: Size, route-running, athleticism; catch radius; can make plays after the catch
Cons: Competition; not a willing blocker; might already be close to his ceiling (fifth-year senior)

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Hayden Hurst decided to declare for the NFL Draft over returning to school, and it is looking like he made the correct decision. The 24-year old, 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end is rated among the first-tier of prospects at his position, and he has a chance to go in the first round come Thursday. He caught 44 passes for 559 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Fun fact: Hurst was a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Minor League system for two years.

Pros: Reliable hands; can play all over the field; knows how to create separation; athletic
Cons: Will be 25 years-old when his rookie season begins (is he already maxed out?); not the best route runner; wasn’t asked to be much of a blocker; pretty much a wide receiver in a tight end’s body

  • Mike Gesicki, Penn St. Nittany Lions
NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Miller’s top-rated tight end in the 2018 NFL Draft class used an impressive performance at the scouting combine to jump up draft boards. Gesicki, 6-foot-5, 247-pounds, is a highly athletic tight end prospect that played in a fun and innovative offense during his collegiate days — and he put up some gaudy numbers in the process. The 2018 Mackey Award winner (given to college football’s best tight end) grabbed 57 passes for 563 yards and nine scores last fall.

Pros: Might have the highest ceiling of all tight ends in this class; extremely athletic; 4.54 40-yard dash; 41.5” vertical; knows how to separate; ideal red-zone target
Cons: Not a big frame; not a great blocker; struggles in run-blocking; practically another wide receiver

Indiana v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Perhaps the best run-blocker of this group is Ian Thomas. The 6-foot-4, 259-pound Hoosiers product began his career on the JUCO level but leaves the collegiate level as a potential day two draft pick. His initial season at Indiana saw little production, but he began to show a little more of what he can do last fall. We wrote on Thomas last month:

The former JUCO product had little-to-no production as a junior (3 catches, 28 yards), but he put together a solid senior campaign for the Hoosiers this past fall. Thomas, 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, hauled in 25 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. He clocked in a 4.74 40 and a 36” vertical at the NFL Combine.

Pros: 11 1/2” hands; strong and willing blocker; athletic; big frame; 36” vertical; physical; high ceiling
Cons: Raw; limited route tree; not the best at getting yards after the catch

There’s a small chance the Cowboys go after a TE early in the draft (after all, the Cowboys didn’t bring any TE’s in for their 30 visits), but who would be your guy in this scenario, BTB?

Previous article in this series:

What if Dallas picks an offensive tackle in the first two rounds?

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