When news first broke that Jason Witten was retiring, it caught many by surprise. After all, it was the morning after the first round of the NFL Draft, and many of us were focused on all the good players still on the board that the Cowboys might take. While the tight end position was already a bit of a need, the sudden retirement of Witten caused some to think Dallas should draft a tight end ASAP. Between Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, there were two highly talented pass-catching tight ends available at the start of the second round. Gesicki went off the board quickly and Goedert went right before the Cowboys’ pick, to a division rival no less. What was worse is that the Eagles sent out a squeaky-voiced kicker to announce the pick in a desperate attempt to troll Cowboys fans. It didn’t quite work, and instead Dallas got one of the best offensive linemen in Connor Williams. Still, the tight end position had a huge question mark over it.
But then, with the 137th overall pick, last selection of the fourth round, the Cowboys took Dalton Schultz from Stanford. The pick didn’t wow anyone, and understandably so: through three years at Stanford, he caught 55 passes for 555 yards and 5 touchdowns. This looks like a good stat line for one season of a backup tight end, not the guy who could be replacing a future Hall of Famer.
Keep in mind, though, that Stanford does not run a typical NFL offense. They run what would be called a pro-style offense 10 years ago: run first, pass when necessary. In other words, they run a similar offense to what Dallas runs. And it makes sense as to why Stanford would run that type of offense: their past two running backs have been Heisman finalists Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. Dallas has a similar situation with Ezekiel Elliott. And like Stanford, Dallas loves to use their tight ends to block for their running back. It was this talent that made Schultz so outstanding at Stanford.
The offensive line for Stanford was pretty talented, but Schultz was utilized as a blocker almost as often as the offensive linemen were. When he became the starting tight end as a sophomore, he helped block for McCaffrey, who accrued 1,603 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. The next year, Schultz helped block for Love, who had 2,118 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Those are some pretty gaudy stats. When you consider that Elliott is a better running back than McCaffrey or Love, and that Dallas’ offensive line is infinitely better than Stanford’s, it would make sense to think that, with Schultz blocking, the Cowboys offense could be even better than 2016. That year Elliott had 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns en route to leading the league in rushing, being named an All Pro as a rookie, and breaking the franchise rookie rushing records set by Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker.
But the biggest concern is about Schultz’s skills as a receiver, understandably so. His catch totals were low, but Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan believe his low production was from a lack of use in the passing game, not a lack of catching talent. Looking at his tape and Pro Day performance, Schultz appears to have really good hands for a tight end. His biggest issue looks to be in route running, as his hips are fairly stiff and he doesn’t possess too many moves to create separation. Those are things that can be taught, and receivers coach Sanjay Lal and tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier will undoubtedly be drilling that into Schultz’s head during training camp. Yet, Stanford has earned notoriety recently for producing talented tight ends: Zach Ertz was instrumental in the Eagles’ Super Bowl winning offense, while Coby Fleener has been a very reliable pass catcher in the NFL. Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo, when with the Falcons, were a big part of their high flying offense the last two years; Toilolo was a big blocking presence for the Falcons’ Super Bowl run, while Hooper’s talent as a vertical threat made him a legitimate receiving target alongside Julio Jones.
Schultz, who was coached up by the same people that produced the names above, comes into Dallas with the same pedigree and potential. Early in the 2018 season, expect the Cowboys to use Blake Jarwin or Geoff Swaim as their main tight end in passing situations, but Schultz should still get ample amount of snaps as their lead blocking tight end. Don’t be surprised, though, if Schultz solidifies himself as the true No 1 tight end on this team by the end of the year. And remember: Witten himself wasn’t drafted until the third round. Four other tight ends were taken before him: Dallas Clark, Bennie Joppru, LJ Smith, and Teyo Johnson. Schultz’s draft slot should have no impact on how good he can be for this team. Like Witten, he was even taken after a Dallas was drafted! By the end of the 2018 season, Schultz should cement his role as the starting tight end for America’s Team.