Dallas Cowboys: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Tight End
The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group is one of the best in the league and represents one of the strongest positions on the roster.
All the tight ends on the roster can make a positive impact on offense, but in a variety of different ways.
In 2013, the Cowboys invested yet another second-round pick on a tight end with Gavin Escobar. They have not had much success with second-round tight ends as of late, considering the disappointing Cowboys careers of Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett.
However, the Cowboys hope Escobar can buck that trend.
They also have speedy receiving threat James Hanna, undrafted free agent Jordan Najvar and perennial All-Pro Jason Witten.
The Cowboys look to be set at tight end for 2014, so let's take a look at each player and where they fit in on the depth chart.
No. 4: Jordan Najvar
The biggest unknown among the four tight ends the Cowboys have on the roster is undrafted free-agent pickup Jordan Najvar.
Najvar is more of a blocking tight end who isn't much of a threat in the passing game. Sports-Reference.com indicates that Najvar had only 35 catches for 311 yards in three years at Baylor.
This may be a positive, because he may bring an attribute that the Cowboys don't currently have on the roster: legitimate blocking ability. The Cowboys have plenty of receiving threats at TE, but no one who excels at blocking outside of Witten.
If Najvar proves to be an excellent in-line blocker, he may convince the Cowboys to keep four TEs on the roster. If Najvar makes the roster, he would be mostly used in goal-line situations and 12 (one RB, two TE) or 22 (two RB and two TE) personnel—especially on obvious running downs.
Najvar could help the running game just enough to make it even more effective.
The best-case scenario for Najvar is that he does in fact prove his worthiness and the Cowboys keep four TEs on the roster. The worst-case scenario is he doesn't and becomes a late training camp cut.
The likeliest scenario would be that he shows he is an adequate blocker with some potential in the passing game, which causes the Cowboys to place him on the practice squad.
No. 3: James Hanna
James Hanna has not lived up to some of the expectations that he had coming out of Oklahoma in 2012. Hanna had elite speed for a tight end and Cowboys fans believed he could add an explosive threat to the offense.
However, in two NFL seasons, Hanna has yet to show this explosiveness. Hanna has 20 receptions for 159 yards in his career thus far.
If Hanna does not improve upon those numbers in 2014, the Cowboys may think of cutting him.
Hanna has the speed and explosiveness to be able to stretch the field down the seam. He had the opportunity to beat Escobar for the No. 2 TE spot in 2013, but failed to capitalize. Barring an injury to Witten or Escobar, Hanna likely won't get many opportunities in the passing game this season.
Hanna's best chance to get playing time on offense is by becoming a great in-line blocker. If he can show improvement in the blocking game, it will force the Cowboys to play him more—thus getting him more opportunities.
The best case for Hanna is that he improves his blocking enough to be a goal-line receiving threat, much like Joseph Fauria was for the Detroit Lions last season.
Worst case for Hanna is that he doesn't improve enough and the Cowboys believe that keeping a blocking TE is a better use of this roster spot, resulting in Hanna being cut.
However, Hanna will most likely make the squad because of his athleticism and ability to be an offensive threat in case of an injury.
No. 2: Gavin Escobar
The most intriguing player at TE and quite possibly on the whole Cowboys roster is Gavin Escobar.
Coming out of San Diego State, Escobar showed the potential to be an elite receiving TE. He had the size and hands to be an incredible red-zone threat and reliable receiver. However, Escobar was not much of a blocker.
In 2013, Escobar seemed to be underutilized and only came up with nine receptions for 134 yards. As noted by Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, he saw his playing time limited because of his deficiencies as a blocker.
Machota reported in June that Escobar has made a concerted effort to improve as a blocker, which is very promising.
Also, it looks like Escobar will be featured much more in the Cowboys offense in 2014. DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus said that if OTAs were any indication, Escobar will have a much bigger role in the offense this season.
There are numerous ways Escobar could get more involved in the offense. Escobar could be split wide in the same way Jimmy Graham is with the New Orleans Saints. He could also be utilized in the slot and as the second TE in 12 and 22 personnel.
If Escobar has improved as a blocker, then there will be little reason for the Cowboys not to utilize him in every way possible.
The best case for Escobar is that he breaks out as a legitimate receiving threat and fantastic red-zone target while being an adequate blocker.
Worst case is he doesn't improve as a blocker, which causes the Cowboys to sit him in much the same way they did in his rookie year.
Most likely, Escobar will become a great red-zone receiver while slowly getting more targets as the season wears on.
No. 1: Jason Witten
Jason Witten will once again takes his place at the No. 1 TE on the Cowboys roster. Witten is the consummate professional who brings toughness and leadership to the Cowboys.
Witten is the most reliable receiving target the Cowboys have. Even though his numbers were a little bit down in 2013, don't expect Witten to be any less of a player for the Cowboys.
He had 73 receptions for 851 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. While many may see that as an indication of decline, it should be seen as just a minor bump in Witten's career.
Witten thrives in the middle of the field and shows great awareness of the defense in his ability to slide into open areas. He is not the most athletic player but uses his savvy and route running to get open on a consistent basis.
As one of the best receivers on the roster, he is also the best in-line blocker among skill position players on the team. Witten often makes good enough blocks in the running game. While he is not a great run-blocker anymore, he gets the job done.
The best-case scenario for Witten is that he returns to his 2012 form in terms of catches while remaining the red-zone threat he was in 2013.
Worst case for Witten is he continues to decline physically, which severely limits his offensive output.
Most likely, Witten will continue to be among the leaders in terms of receptions among TEs while seeing a slight decline in red-zone opportunities because of Escobar's presence.
All statistics were retrieved from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.