The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2018 season with some big shoes to fill on offense after the news that Dez Bryant and Jason Witten wouldn’t be a part of the team. Just those two guys alone consisted of 45% of Dak Prescott’s targets last season. The addition of Amari Cooper has made fans forget about Bryant for the most part. Last year, Dez had 69 catches for 838 yard with six touchdowns. Cooper had 53 catches for 725 yards and also had six touchdowns, but Amari’s numbers are just over nine games. Clearly bringing on Cooper has shown a strong improvement at the wide receiver position for the Cowboys.
But filling in for Witten hasn’t been quite as easy. Despite being age 35, Witten was a reliable fixture for the Cowboys offense. Last season, he caught 63 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns. He trailed only Bryant for the team lead in receptions. Replacing his production wasn’t going to be easy.
Surprisingly, the Cowboys have done a good job with their tight-end-by-committee approach. Here is a look at a comparison of the last two seasons:
The Cowboys actually have more receiving yards from their tight ends this season than they did last year.
Of course, this type of production wasn’t there all year long as the team has shown a great deal of improvement as the season has progressed. Geoff Swaim surprised people with how effective he could be in the passing game. He wasn’t lighting it up by any means, but he was turning out to be a reliable target despite being known for just his blocking ability.
There has also been a lot growth shown by Dalton Schultz in recent weeks. He’s just a rookie, but 77 of his 116 yards receiving have come in the last four games of the season.
But the real surprise comes from undrafted free agent Blake Jarwin. After having just four catches for 42 yards in his first 10 games, he’s come on strong as of late. His numbers have been trending up and exploded on Sunday when he caught seven passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns. Jason Witten played in 239 career games and never had a game with three touchdowns.
The upward trend is a nice thing to see with Jarwin as it makes us feel that Sunday’s performance wasn’t just one of those “sun shines on a dog’s backside” moments. There could be something to this kid. Jarwin came out of Oklahoma State with some upside as he has the athleticism to be a real threat in the passing game. He is a smooth route runner and does a great job adjusting to the ball. Jarwin is also a very good at going north-south immediately after the catch, allowing him to get the most out of his catches. All these things were on display Sunday against the Giants.
His size and strength doesn’t help when it comes to his blocking responsibilities and that’s been his bugaboo. But he’s a talented receiver and things are starting to come together for him. The Cowboys have liked him for a while and even sacrificed carrying an extra tight end on the roster last season to keep the Philadelphia Eagles from poaching him from their practice squad.
It's true, the Eagles tried to steal a young tight end the Cowboys were interested in, but it just wasn't the guy they thought it was.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) December 31, 2018
Dallas Goedert 524 snaps, 33 receptions, 334 yards, 4 TDs (2nd round)
Blake Jarwin 387 snaps, 27 receptions, 307 yards, 3 TDs (UDFA) https://t.co/IbSgoBQSCn
What’s interesting about all this is that the Cowboys arsenal of weapons is growing. With defenses having to focus on Ezekiel Elliott and now Amari Cooper, that leaves less resources for other guys. Prescott hit nine different receivers on Sunday and threw for four touchdowns for the first time in his career. And despite having new faces in new places, Dak has thrown for a career-high 3,885 yards this season, which is more than 560 yards than he did last year. With Zeke, Cooper, and Beasley all getting attention, having a solid receiving tight end roaming around is going to make things harder on the defense. On several plays against the Giants, there wasn’t a defender anywhere in the proximity of Jarwin. There are only so many defenders to go around and if Jarwin is a legit threat in the passing game, this Cowboys offense is really going to be tough in the playoffs.
You have to really tip you cap to the Cowboys front office for the improvements they’ve made at wide receiver and tight end this season. It didn’t look good early, but they’ve continued to have faith and put in the work to get better. Well, they’re better and if Sunday was any indication, this could be a good sign for the Cowboys going forward.