Continuing our series of looking at positional groups. Today, we look at tight ends.
The Cowboys entered the 2019 NFL Draft with a handful of needs, most notably at defensive tackle and safety. The Cowboys addressed the former in the second-round by taking UCF’s Trysten Hill with pick 58. The team somewhat addressed the latter by inking veteran Georeg Iloka to a one-year deal in free agency and drafting former Miami Hurricanes defensive back Michael Jackson on day three of the draft.
Another position of need, one can certainly argue, is the tight end spot. The Cowboys were thought to be a player in a draft class that consisted of multiple potential starting tight ends, but Dallas opted to pass. Some of that could be because of the return of Jason Witten, while some of that can be attributed to the fact that the team believes in the development of two younger guys already in the building: Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz.
Nonetheless, the tight end spot has been an important position in the Jason Garrett offense, thanks in large part to the future Hall of Famer. How does this position group look heading into the 2019 season?
Jason Witten’s surprise return to the NFL blindsided many. After all, Witten appeared to have job security with ESPN, where he was away from potential injuries. However, Witten was drawn back to the game and will be suiting up with America’s Team once again this fall.
A big factor in the Cowboys legend returning to the silver and blue is the talent on the roster. In fact, Witten even said that this year’s Cowboys team has “the most talent (he’s) seen”:
But Witten sees in the 2019 Cowboys as the most talented team he has been on and possibly his best chance of reaching the Super Bowl.
“Yeah, I think it’s close,” Witten said without batting an eye. “The most talent I’ve seen.”
Witten, 37, appears to be re-energized after his year away from the gridirion. During his last season on the field, the veteran recorded 63 catches for 560 yards and five touchdown grabs. It remains to be seen how his body will hold up, but Witten is expected to be an integral part of the tight end position in 2019. While he won’t provide the same memorable plays that he did during his prime, the former Tennessee Volunteer provides Dak Prescott a target in the redzone and a security blanket for first downs
If nothing else, Witten’s leadership can be very beneficial to a young roster as it grows and matures.
Blake Jarwin was signed by the Dallas Cowboys after going undrafted following his career with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were not the only team interested in Jarwin though, as the rival Eagles once attempted to snatch Jarwin prior to Dallas inking him to the 53-man roster.
Jarwin is an athletic tight end that has shown flashes of breaking out at different times during his two seasons with the Cowboys, but he has not been able to put everything together just yet. The most memorable moment of Jarwin’s young professional career came in the regular-season finale versus the New York Giants.
The 24-year-old tore up the Giants’ secondary, as Dak Prescott found the young target seven times for 119 yards and three scores. Yes, three scores. Jarwin’s only three touchdown receptions during his time in the NFL came against the Giants in one game.
This @Dak pass— NFL (@NFL) December 30, 2018
: FOX #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/jwKnA5nLvU
Funny enough, Jarwin became the first Cowboy tight end since Witten to score multiple times against that team from New York.
.@Jaws_47 is now the first #DallasCowboys tight end to catch 2 TDs in a game since Jason Witten had two against the Giants (9/13/15). pic.twitter.com/kskNbReM5t— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 30, 2018
2019 can be a big year for Jarwin as he enters his third season with Dallas, but how many opportunities will the young weapon receive with Witten in town?
Much like this past draft, many believed that the Dallas Cowboys were going to take a tight end high last year after Witten broke the news of his retirement; however that never came to be. Dallas opted to wait until its second selection in round four to grab a potential replacement.
The criticism that came with the selection of Schultz was his inexperience as a receiver, something that fans believed to be important for Witten’s replacement. Schultz was primarily used as a blocker in Stanford’s run-heavy offense, but coach David Shaw had some high praise for the Utah native:
Stanford’s head coach David Shaw said that Schultz was the most “complete” tight end that the team has produced in recent years, with pass-catching and run-blocking ability. Yet it is his run-blocking that is heralded the most, as his technique and consistency in form are features that might boost his draft stock. Schultz trends now as a day-three-type player. His best weapon for potentially going earlier might be former teammate Zach Ertz, as teams might be interested in how Schultz could grow into a similar player.
In his rookie campaign with the Cowboys, Schultz grabbed 12 receptions on 17 targets for 116 yards and a 9.6 average yards per catch. Nothing to write home about, but Schultz — like Jarwin — has an opportunity to take the next jump in his career.
Remember when everybody was on the Rico Train? Some still may be waiting on the former Baylor Bears basketball star to realize his potential on the football field, but the odds of Gathers making the 53-man roster this fall seem to be slim at best right now.
There is no denying that Gathers is an athletic freak and has the body type of a tight end that could potentially dominate in today’s day and age with his frame and basketball background, but Gathers has struggled to pick up the playbook and the little things that it takes for a player to succeed in the NFL.
Here’s hoping that this is the offseason that Gathers finally makes a jump, but the Cowboys can not afford to bank on that.
Jason Witten did not return to sit on the bench, but Kellen Moore may try to utilize all three of his tight ends in some fashion. Witten is the veteran that has experienced everything that can be thrown at an NFL player, while Jarwin and Schultz (and even Gathers) offer promise in different areas.