Despite drafting a pass-catching tight end to play the “Robin” to Jason Witten’s “Batman” in 2012, the Dallas Cowboys grabbed another tight end in the second round with San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar. Escobar hauled in 122 receptions for 1,646 yards during his three-year college career, although he totaled only 543 yards in 2012.
The biggest positive for Escobar, in my estimation, is that he’s a big-time threat in the red zone. He converted 13.9 percent of his college receptions into touchdowns—a fairly high rate—and that’s a trait the Cowboys covet. Witten has traditionally been subpar inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and it isn’t as if the running backs are pounding it in for touchdowns.
Escobar is a really talented athlete—not as explosive as you might like with only 4.78 speed—but a player with tremendous ball skills. He can certainly add something as a receiver, but as I mentioned in my immediate reaction of the pick, the Cowboys don’t necessarily need that. They have Miles Austin and Dez Bryant on the outside, and second-year man James Hanna showed some things last year.
The Cowboys obviously think they’ll be able to fix Escobar’s blocking. As it stands now, I see Escobar putting himself in a poor position and frequently lunging at defenders.
With his 6'6", 254-pound frame, he needs to utilize excellent technique to block players who will typically be larger and stronger than he is—a player who managed only 12 reps on the bench press. If he can do that, Escobar will create matchup problems for defenses who won’t know whether they should go heavy to overpower him or light to cover him downfield.
Escobar has the potential to become the Cowboys’ version of Jimmy Graham, but it’s fair to wonder what sort of impact he can have in Dallas if he won’t see more than a handful of targets.
Even if he jumps Hanna on the depth chart, Escobar won’t be better than the fifth option on offense. Since he can’t add much as a blocker, at least not right away, defenses can go small when he comes into the game and probably still handle the run with ease.
Because I had plenty of players rated higher than Escobar and he doesn’t fill a major position of need, I think Cowboys fans are justified in, once again, questioning their team’s decision.
Early Projection for 2013
Despite being a second-round selection, Escobar probably won't be asked to contribute right away. I think he'll eventually win the No. 2 tight end job, but he's still going to be playing behind "Mr. Reliable" in Witten. Because of that, I can't see Escobar going for more than 15 receptions, 200 yards or three touchdowns, unless Witten goes down.
Projecting Escobar's Career
I think Escobar has the skill set to have a bright career in the NFL. He's a long, athletic player who can potentially develop into a big-time receiving threat over the middle.
And if you think the Cowboys aren't looking for Witten's eventual replacement, think again. Despite breaking the record for single-season receptions for a tight end, Witten's 2012 yards-per-target dropped for the fourth straight season to 1.58.
That's significant, and it highlights the fact that Witten won't be able to play at an elite level for too much longer. Actually, the decline has already begun. I still don't think Escobar was the right pick in that situation, but he's a candidate to be a second- or third-year breakout player once he gets more opportunities.