The Dallas Cowboys took a tight end early in the 2023 NFL Draft, just not the one that everybody was expecting. It was Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker who heard his name called by America’s Team before the second round was over, the highest tight end picked by the organization since Gavin Escobar a decade ago.
Truth be told the selection felt a bit out of left field but a part of that seems to be because as a whole the Cowboys have gotten a bit better at keeping their cards close to the vest. That is a topic for another day, though.
We know that Schoonmaker has elite athletic traits but an important part about football is how that translates to actually, you know, playing football. For Schoonmaker it seems like that could be after the catch.
Luke Schoonmaker will hopefully become an offensive weapon in the open field
His final season at Michigan saw Luke Schoonmaker finish with 11.9 yards per reception, but where we want to see him help the Cowboys more is specifically after the catch. The good news is that Schoonmaker has some supremely athletic qualities. That isn’t grandstanding or hyperbole, he is literally one of the top tight ends to enter the NFL draft from an athletic perspective in the last 36 years.
Luke Schoonmaker was drafted with pick 58 of round 2 in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.86 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 16 out of 1105 TE from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/Ml2B0eOGKS pic.twitter.com/ItzfUA2Sa2— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
Schoonmaker’s 40-yard dash is what really helped things, but he is hardly lacking for a positive score in other departments. It is hard not to see how the Cowboys are very intrigued by him.
But back to where he does his damage, the thing about his time at Michigan is that most of what he did came on crossing routes. ESPN’s Todd Archer noted that 147 of his receiving yards this past season were in fact on crossers, the second most among FBS tight ends.
Thankfully it appears that Schoonmaker is aware of how close to the line of scrimmage he has worked and wants to change things a bit. This is from a conversation that he had with The Draft Network.
JM: You also have underrated elusiveness in the open field when it comes to creating yards after the catch. How did you develop that aspect of your game?
Luke Schoonmaker: That’s my biggest emphasis as I prepare for the next level. I want to be a playmaker with the ball in my hands. When I catch the ball, I don’t expect to get tackled by one defender. I’m trying to get North and South. I’m trying to get into the end zone.
I’ll do whatever it takes to create those yards after the catch. It takes constant work. I love using that stiff arm. I have the strength necessary to run through would-be tacklers. I have great contact balance as well. I can regroup and get those yards after catch after initial contact.
It’s always been a big emphasis of mine. It will continue being a big emphasis. It’s also a mindset thing. I have the will to not go down. It’s always been an emphasis thing for me.
Yards after the catch are important, but if you are further down the field when you make the catch then that is still a good thing.
We have talked endlessly about whether or not the Cowboys could/should rely on the combination of Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot as their primary tight ends in 2023, but they weren’t exactly getting down the field before receptions a ton throughout their rookie season.
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends, Yards Before Catch/Reception in 2022:
- Dalton Schultz....................... 6.5
- Jake Ferguson........................ 2.6
- Peyton Hendershot................ 5.1
Obviously the more concerning figure is Ferguson’s 2.6 mark but these numbers are per reception and it is worth noting that he and Hendershot had 30 combined this past season. Still, the numbers are the numbers.
The Cowboys did not spend a second-round pick on Luke Schoonmaker to let him sit behind anybody for a long time and while they didn’t draft him to run him 30 yards down the field every play, it is clear that they want someone who can stretch the field just a little bit more than what they got from non-Dalton Schultz tight ends last year.
For context, the 2019 version of Jason Witten (Pro Football Reference only has this data dating back to 2018 and he was retired that year and left Dallas following the 2019 season) had 5.8 yards before reception and he was hardly running past the chains every play. Schoonmaker figures to be an athlete that the Cowboys can deploy, one with speed, to get to places where their previous tight ends couldn’t further down the field.
Schoonmaker helped himself at the NFL Combine with a solid 40-yard dash. While Schoonmaker only had two seasons of film to really evaluate from a pass catching sense, it was more than good enough for the former Michigan tight end to be an mid-round pick. Schoonmaker can move around the field and be a mismatch, and has enough speed to win on short-intermediate-and long routes. This is a fairly deep class at tight end, which will wind up with Schoonmaker being selected in the third or fourth round.
Give it a chance.