The return of Jason Witten has bought the Dallas Cowboys some time in terms of having a viable starting tight end. Witten can do that for now. They do have some young players in Blake Jarwin and last year’s draft choice Dalton Schultz who could be pieces for the future. The Cowboys still are missing a difference maker and Stephen Jones said in January that the tight end position is one of their top needs. The addition of Witten shouldn’t change that. And as we’ve already learned once, he could suddenly be gone at any instant.
For this exercise, we are identifying a long-shot player (blue), a hold your breath player (green), and a reasonable chance player (yellow) that could be available at pick 58. It may be unrealistic to include a long-shot player on this list, but we never know what exactly is going to happen and it’s good to at least have these guys on the radar. Conversely, a “reasonable chance” player may not be the best option for the Cowboys and seem like a reach at that part in the draft, but they’re listed nonetheless. Here are three possible candidates (ranks courtesy of Dane Brugler’s top 100) at the defensive end position.
If there is one thing I’m certain about, it’s that an Iowa player will be the first tight end off the board. Of course, which player that might be is a little trickier. T.J. Hockenson is the top dog on my board and should be gone within the first 20 picks, possibly even top 10. His teammate Noah Fant shouldn’t be too far behind and I wouldn’t bet the farm that he doesn’t jump ahead of Hockenson if some team loves him.
Fant is a super athletic space tight end. Despite sharing targets with Hockenson, Fant hauled in 82 catches for 1,083 yards and 19 touchdowns over the last three seasons at Iowa. He flies off the snap and easily separates from the defense. He has long strides and was the fastest tight end at the combine, putting up a 4.50 forty time. He’s got a springy feel and his leaping ability helps him have a remarkable catch radius.
As great as Fant is he’s not perfect. He can get thrown off his route easy as he doesn’t handle contact well. He likes to go where he needs to go and becomes a little frazzled when the defense tries to interfere with his plans. He gets distracted by traffic and that can throw off his concentration. And unlike his teammate Hockenson, Fant isn’t a complete tight end. He needs to improve his blocker. However, his talent in the passing game will give some team an incredible offensive weapon.
Chances of being available at 58: Nada. If the Cowboys see him as a big time playmaker for this offense, then they’ll need to invest some additional draft capital to move up and grab him. But even then, it’s going to require him to slide further than many expect.
He just might make it...
Irv Smith Jr.
The Alabama tight end would be a perfect fit for the Cowboys as he is great both in the passing game and in the run. Smith Jr. is a great blocking tight end as he gets good leverage and stays square on the defender. He shows great body control and moves well in space. He’s disciplined enough to secure blocks on key running situations, which is something the Cowboys lacked significantly last season. Could you imagine what Ezekiel Elliott could do if he had these creases?
Irv Smith, Jr's block on Damien Harris' touchdown run is violent pic.twitter.com/VHB6VmuZJy— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) September 4, 2017
But blocking is only the beginning. Smith Jr. has great speed and is a good route-runner. He gets into his routes quickly and knows how to work himself into space. He has strong hands and shows great concentration to handle contested passes. He’s also a tough guy and doesn’t go down easy, milking every extra yard he can get. He’s got good quickness and is dangerous in space.
Despite being fast and one of the better space tight ends in the draft, Smith Jr. doesn’t have that extra gear that Fant has. He’s not going to run away from speedy defensive backs, but hey - he’s a tight end. There’s really not much to not like about Smith Jr. as he’s NFL ready with the potential to be a star in this league so why not put a star on his helmet?
Chances of being available at 58: Slim. Smith Jr. could very easily be gone by Day 1 as well. The team would have to get a stroke of good luck to see him fall that far, but if he does Cowboys fans should rejoice as Dak Prescott would have a new favorite.
Good chance of being there...
This is a good draft to need a tight end because it is deep with talent. If the Cowboys miss out on some of the elite guys, there should still be a starting caliber player available. Texas A&M’s Jace Sterberger is a great receiving tight end. He’s a top notch route-runner with smooth acceleration and sharp out of his breaks. He has soft hands and does a great job adjusting his body to haul down poorly thrown balls. He doesn’t have great speed, but is a tenacious runner after the catch. He quickly turns up field and gains some nice chunk yardage with very little wasted movement.
Sternberger is a little undersized and while he holds his own fine with his block responsibilities, this is an area he’ll need to improve upon, especially if he plays for the Cowboys. He lacks physicality which not only shows up in the run, but he can be bullied off his routes at time as well. Sternberger’s ability as a pass catcher will make him an nice addition to any offense looking to stretch the defense.
Chances of being available at 58: Good. The Cowboys taking Sternberger here would scream “need” pick. Not because he’s not good enough to warrant it, but rather - there’s got to be more talented players at other positions available at this part of the draft.