Historically, the Dallas Cowboys have always had at least one big-time tight end on their roster during a Super Bowl run. Right now, the ball club leans heavily on an aging Jason Witten but the young tight ends who remain on the roster are becoming more valuable in Dallas.
Dallas Cowboys: Young Tight Ends Valuable in Big D
With the recent departure of four-year veteran Gavin Escobar, the Cowboys have made it clear that any of their free agents who do not fit into the team’s immediate plans for the future are free to leave. Through the years, Escobar has proven that he can catch a pass or two but he has not proven that he can smash up against the league’s top defenders with any kind of ferocity.
One could speculate that his lack of physical toughness could be one of the reasons the team did not make a concerted effort to keep the talented, young pass-catcher. Either way, the 6’6” 260 pound specimen is headed to Kansas City, leaving the Cowboys with three more just like him to compete for the number two spot behind Witten.
Second year tight end Geoff Swaim started the 2016 campaign on a hot streak. After playing only four games in his rookie season with one start, 2015 seventh round pick Swaim had elevated himself to the number two tight end spot. He made six starts as the Cowboys opened those games in a two-tight end set. However, the 6’4” 250 pounder suffered a pectoral injury and missed the team’s final eight games on injured reserve.
Swaim has the kind of physicality that makes the Cowboys offensive coaching staff salivate. Unfortunately, the youngster has not been able to stay healthy long enough to make an impact. It’s not clear whether or not the player is actually injury prone but he’s running out of time to prove his worth to the brain trust at the Star in Frisco.
Swaim recently had surgery due to a foot fracture that occurred during one of his workouts away from the facility. He’s expected to miss all of OTAs but should be able to return for the start of training camp. Swaim has only seven receptions for 69 yards in his career but he has been invaluable as a blocker for the team.
Fifth-year pro James Hannah is still a bit of a mystery. Sure, he possesses the size, speed and hands that make for a fine professional tight end. However, he too has sustained his fair share of injuries. In 2012, the Cowboys drafted the 6’4” 240 pound Hannah to add depth and provide training camp competition for former veteran tight end John Phillips.
Hannah impressed Cowboys coaches during training camp, earning a roster spot and making two starts in 16 games. He finished the season with eight catches for 86 yards and no touchdowns but his potential was clearly on display, when he touched the field. Hannah did not show a nose for the end zone but he was available and that was half of the battle. He has the potential to replace the softer Escobar.
Hannah managed to earn eight more starts in his second season but again he had no touchdowns on 12 receptions for 73 yards. During the Cowboys playoff run in 2014, Hannah made 12 starts but only finished with four receptions for 48 yards. He did have a long catch of 27 yards, flashing his speed. A bone bruise in his knee forced him to opt for surgery before the 2016 season and landed him on injured reserve.
The biggest knock on the player to this point is his inconsistency. If he can manage to work his way to back to the field, he must show that he can be what his body gives everyone the impression he is. Hannah has the look of a potentially special player as a tight end. He has the size and strength to line up and battle in the trenches. He also has the speed to separate from linebackers and defensive backs in coverage.
6’6” 280-plus pound Rico Gathers out of Baylor was a bit of a project, heading into 2016 but the Cowboys see a bright future in the youngster. Gathers did not play football at Baylor, instead he spent his time on campus playing basketball. However, the Cowboys drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. The team believed he was a solid prospect as a tight end or defensive end.
Gathers failed to make the 53-man roster and was signed to the practice squad for the 2016 season. He appears to be rounding into shape. The Cowboys expect him to be ready to participate in OTAs and training camp. If he proves his worth the team won’t have any issues with depth at tight end. Witten, Swaim, Hannah and Gathers will definitely make up for the departed Escobar.
The Cowboys will also probably bring in more youth at the position to create a competitive environment for the three viable options who are currently on the team’s roster. Tight end has proven to be a critical position for the franchise in the past. Expect head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive staff to continue to utilize the position in both the running and passing games.