Tight end Luke Schoonmaker is one of the most-discussed rookies from the Cowboys’ 2023 class but has yet to debut in training camp. With signs that the second-round pick could soon be coming off the non-football injury list soon and joining in practice, what could this mean for the starting TE battle in Dallas?
ESPN’s Todd Archer recently shared that Schoonmaker, who has been on NFI with a foot issue, is showing signs that he will soon join his teammates on the field in Oxnard. It comes on the heels of practice highlights showing Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot scoring touchdowns.
We’ve always known that Dalton Schultz’s departure would lead to an intriguing battle for the TE1 job this summer. But with Schoonmaker missing the first week of camp or more, it only opened the door wider for Ferguson and Hendershot to get reps and create separation in the competition.
Forgot this from Tuesday: Rookie TE Luke Schoonmaker, who is on NFI with plantar fascia, worked off to the side in full pads, which is normally a sign a player is close to getting on the field for practice.— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 2, 2023
Mojo Moment try 1— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) August 1, 2023
Dak Prescott to Jake Ferguson - ✅ pic.twitter.com/9WdD7Pxz8N
Even if Schoonmaker had been healthy and a full participant from Day 1, Ferguson might still be the frontrunner for the starting job. His potential was clear as a rookie in 2022 and a factor in Dallas’ decision to let Schultz walk in free agency. The Cowboys seemed comfortable with the possibility of Ferguson and Hendershot as their top-two tight ends this season if that’s how things unfolded.
Nevertheless, Dallas made Schoonmaker the 58th overall pick in last April’s NFL draft. The Michigan product has great size and athleticism, superior to Ferguson and Hendershot in his combine numbers. The Cowboys obviously thought enough of his potential to make him an early pick, naturally setting the expectation that he would eventually be a key offensive player.
But with the foot issue delaying his participation in camp, Schoonmaker’s bid for the starting job has been weakened. The rookie learning curve was going to be troublesome enough for him but now he’s losing valuable time establishing chemistry with QB Dak Prescott, and all the while giving more opportunities to the competition. Ferguson and Hendershot already had the edge in experience and trust-building with QB1 and are only increasing that advantage.
Obviously, the sooner Schoonmaker can get back on the field the better for his chances. While all three of these prospects will certainly make the Cowboys’ 2023 roster, how the snaps and targets get doled out over the season could have a major impact on their futures. Just look back at Schultz, whose career may have turned out very differently if not for Blake Jarwin’s 2020 injury.
We might assume that Schoonmaker, as a second-round pick, is the expected heir to the TE throne in Dallas. But draft status only goes so far; consider what’s happening at the cornerback position with DaRon Bland’s ascension over Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright. As Tony Romo famously said in 2016, “football is a meritocracy.” If Jake Ferguson earns the trust of the coaches and his quarterback, combine results and where guys got drafted won’t really matter.
Barring any setbacks, it appears that we’ll soon see Luke Schoonmaker’s training camp debut and get to watch him in the upcoming preseason games. Even if he’s not the starting TE as a rookie, his arrival will hopefully push everyone a little harder and make the group an even more effective part of the Cowboys’ offense this season.