Dallas rookie tight end Gavin Escobar
So, training camp has come and gone for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 and I can still ask an easy question: Where is Gavin Escobar?
This was the pick that made many a fan to drop their faces into their hands upon learning that Dallas chose a pass-catching tight end in Round 2 of the NFL Draft for the third time since 2006. Other fans might have simply turned the television off or thrown their smart phone.
If you were happy with this selection then the above might not make sense, but the following numbers suggest that Escobar's output so far could be a glimpse into the future.
Three: Number of yards Escobar has been credited with gaining.
This is not to claim already that Escobar will be a bust or not a good player after just two exhibition contests. We all know what his strengths look like in a passing offense and that he has wide receiver-like hands and blah, blah, blah.
Yes, even I think that Escobar may eventually develop into a nice weapon for the Cowboys passing attack. Remember that starting tight end Jason Witten is 31; it's not a bad idea to start planning for the future.
The main question here is this: Was that plan worth a second-round selection last April?
A secondary question, and almost of equal importance, is whether or not the Dallas offense is even a good fit for two dominant, pass-catching tight ends in the first place.
I'll try to answer both.
On whether or not Escobar was worth a second-round selection, I would state that he definitely was. Dallas chose him, for starters, and it's no stretch to think that another NFL team might have grabbed him later in the second round had he fallen.
In this case, the team that chose him is where the value becomes questionable. Choosing a second-round tight end, and one that can't really run block at all, suggests that you're planning to use that player in an extensive role within the offense. You should be panning to use him much like the Cowboys enjoy the multi-Pro Bowl services of Witten—already.
What we know is that Escobar is on the side of raw when it comes to the NFL. He undoubtedly has a professional skill set that will catch on, but for a team that wants to win now while addressing its numerous offensive line questions, I can't see the value being so high.
Yes, right tackle Doug Free was pretty bad in his first season back at his original starting spot with Dallas in 2012. This fact, however, should not overlook the interior instability of the offensive line that is positively no more encouraging than Free's collapse of last season.
Heading into Saturday's third preseason contest in Phoenix, the Cowboys have second-year offensive guard Ronald Leary out with a knee scope and have already tried to sign offensive linemen, from outside mind you, that are either recently retired or already made that decision over a year ago—this because 2012 free-agent guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau are doing little to create much optimism.
Third-round selection Larry Warford, an offensive guard chosen by Detroit, went off the board 18 picks after Escobar was taken by the Cowboys. The former Kentucky mauler would sure look good in better blue and silver about now, right?
No, Escobar didn't just cost Dallas a second-round choice. It also created the framework for the offensive line predicament the Cowboys are in right now.
Finally, recent history suggests that the Dallas offense really isn't a very good place for two top-flight tight ends. I'm talking about guys like Witten, Vernon Davis of San Francisco and Jimmy Graham in New Orleans.
I get that New England has made a two-tight end system work brilliantly over the last few seasons, but the Cowboys have never run their offense like the Patriots do, especially during the post-Randy Moss era. The Cowboys don't have the kind of offensive line that New England generally has and they certainly have better wide receivers. Patriots receivers, lately, scare nobody.
Remember that in 2006 Tony Romo became Dallas' starting quarterback and the Cowboys immediately became a pass first, run second offense. In the playoff season of 2009 did Dallas not enjoy the advantage of having wide receivers Terrell Owens or Dez Bryant as clear focal points of its passing attack? In '09, Romo still had the combination of Roy Williams and Miles Austin, the latter of which set the franchise record for most receiving yards in a single game in his first season starting.
In other words, Romo is going to throw the football to wideouts—and his career numbers suggest that he awfully good at doing it.
Witten is a huge exception to this rule, which is getting to my main point.
Romo needs Witten like Troy Aikman needed Jay Novacek. Witten and Novacek were not only fantastic weapons in the passing game but they also were masters at blocking. They knew where to be and exactly how to maximize their skills in the trenches.
Escobar does not have these skills right now and I'm not positive he'll ever be a great blocker—so he better be pretty awesome in the passing game to justify taking passes away from Bryant, Austin, rookie Terrance Williams, Witten and any running backs that might be thrown to.
It is interesting that Romo has also had other tight end duos during his career.
Anthony Fasano was a second-round pick in the '06 NFL draft and was traded two years later in the 2008 selection meeting. Dallas would choose Martellus Bennett in the very same draft and he scored four touchdowns as a rookie. Bennett wouldn't score another before leaving as an unrestricted free agent prior to last season.
Now, both of these tight ends went on to produce more with other teams following their relatively short stays with the Cowboys.
This is a rather telling revelation.
What exactly Escobar ends up being is anybody's guess. So long as Romo is passing footballs for Dallas he just doesn't require two elite pass-catchers at tight end. If he had Tom Brady's receivers from 2012 then I could certainly see Romo passing more often to a second tight end—but this is clearly not the case.
We'll watch and wait for the first repetitious sighting of Dallas' second-round pick in 2013.