There are only three or four tight ends in the league who can confidently say they’re better than Jason Witten. The seven-time Pro Bowler is cemented in the Cowboys’ starting lineup and is a leader both on and off the field. But the ‘Boys have a situation on their hands where they’d like to complement No. 82 with another receiving tight end for the 2012 season in order to cause confusion for opposing defenses.
The Cowboys thought they had such a pairing when they drafted Martellus Bennett in the second round of the 2008 draft. Hoping he’d develop into a receiving threat, the Cowboys put him in situations where he was one-on-one with linebackers and even tossed him a few fade routes in the endzone. However, Bennett never lived up to those expectations.
With Laurent Robinson’s surprise emergence last season, a game against the Cowboys could always mean a shootout. Teams had to defend three receivers, a tight end, and a running back, any of whom could score from the 50-yard line.
But Robinson’s in Jacksonville and Bennett is gone, too. Dallas can’t rely on Kevin Olgletree, who has yet to make a consistent impact from the slot receiver position. And John Phillips is a blocking tight end, not a receiving one.
So do the Cowboys aim for another slot receiver or a receiving tight end?
It’s easy to look up north at New England and see how two receiving tight ends impact the game. With defenders unable to simply launch themselves at players going over the middle, tight ends are becoming primary targets across the league.
Last season five tight ends were in the league’s top 15, as far as receptions. That’s the first time in the past decade at least. Just 10 years ago, not a single tight end could crack the top 15, let alone five different tight ends.
The Cowboys wouldn’t be inventing the wheel by going with two receiving tight ends instead of a slot receiver, but they sure could benefit from it.
Stanford’s Coby Fleener is ranked as one of, if not, the best tight ends in the draft. Some draft experts have him going in the early to mid-second round of the draft.
I know I’ve been preaching pass rush as one of the Cowboys’ needs, but the second tight end is one need that has gone forgotten in recent weeks. Fans and analysts alike have been focusing on the defensive side of the ball, but a player like Fleener could make an immediate impact on an offense that needs to fill the void of Laurent Robinson leaving.
The Cowboys would most likely have to trade up in the second round to nab Fleener, assuming he falls that far. I don’t believe the Cowboys should trade back from their spot in the first to draft him.
Where Fleener is key is in the running and play-action game—two things that the Cowboys plan to use a lot in 2012. Coming from the Stanford offense, he’s use to being in multiple tight end sets.
Our (Stanford) offensive coordinator and offensive coaches did a real good job of utilizing the talent that we had at the tight end position. We had some young guys (who) played real well, who probably will be here in the next couple of years. It was great for me to have them on my team and for the coaches to put us in a position to be successful. I think it's tough on defenses to figure out: Are we going to run the ball, because we can with three big guys up there? Or are we going to pass the ball? You create mismatches and it's tough for a defense to cover.
And that’s what the Cowboys tried to do with Bennett but couldn’t. If the Cowboys have an opportunity to grab Fleener, they should.
Rob Brown is a Corresponent for Bleacher Report as well as the primary writer for www.CowboysVsRedskins.com