The tight end position in fantasy football is one of the more overlooked positions on a given roster. Most people will begin selecting backups to their wide receiver and running back groups before taking their starting tight end. In looking at the Dallas Cowboys, there is a lot to like about the Tight End group.
And it all starts with one man. Jason Witten.
Jason Witten has been one of the most consistent offensive performers for the Cowboys since coming into the league in 2003. Since his second season in the league, Witten has totaled more than 60 receptions and 700 yards every year.
He is on the downside of his career and is beginning to lose his quickness, but the traits that have made him an elite TE for more than a decade are still present:
- His ability to get open
- His intelligence
- His toughness and durability
- His hands
- His rapport with the quarterback
Tony Romo looks for Jason Witten in big moments and on third downs.
Gone are the days where Witten catches 100 passes, because the Cowboys have pretty good weapons throughout the offense. His floor, however, is easily the 60 catches that he has put up in each season over the last 12 years. Yardage and TDs are a little more difficult to predict.
Jason Witten finished the 2015 season as the 12th best Tight End in standard leagues.
Jason Witten hasn’t missed a game since his second year in the NFL, which is an amazing feat, and will keep him as one of the most consistent fantasy football tight ends.
With a healthy Romo and a healthy Dez Bryant, Jason Witten could improve upon that number. Draft Witten somewhere as the 12th-15th tight end off the board and you have a guy who could finish the season in the top 7 or 8 tight ends (Delanie Walker territory).
Fantasy prediction: 67 catches, 850 yards, 5 Touchdowns
Average Draft Position from fantasypros.com: 15th Tight End, 138th overall
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At the moment, Gavin Escobar is the only other TE with much fantasy football value, because of what he represents in the red zone.
Recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in the 2015 season, Escobar made a surprise return to the early part of training camp. The 4th year tight end won’t start the year on the physically unable to perform list, as originally predicted.
A big body who can go up and get the ball, he hasn’t been able to refine his blocking game. That has limited him to a red-zone role.
Gavin Escobar could be an asset if Witten gets hurt (which is unlikely) or in deep leagues.
It’s likely you aren’t drafting Gavin Escobar in any league, aside from 14 team deep roster or dynasty leagues. In his three seasons in the league, he’s never caught more than nine passes in a season. With the Cowboys deep at Running Back and Wide Receiver, it becomes murkier for Escobar as a fantasy asset.
Fantasy Prediction: 7 catches, 115 yards, and 3 TDs
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James Hanna isn’t much of a factor in the passing game. He comes on the field in two tight end blocking situations and is a fine special teams player, but doesn’t receive many targets.
Hanna would be the most likely to take over as a starter with a Witten injury (not likely, see above), because he is a better blocker than Escobar. He will be on the waiver wire for most of the season.
Fantasy Prediction: Determined by snap count. In the event of a Witten Injury, this is the TE, I would turn to.
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During the 2015 NFL draft, the Cowboys sent a 2016 sixth round choice to San Francisco to obtain another 7th to draft Geoff Swaim. The former Texas Longhorn has primarily been relegated to a blocking tight end and fullback at times.
In 4 games in 2015, Geoff Swaim received only 1 target — a catch for zero yards.
Fantasy Prediction: Swaim may have a difficult time keeping a roster spot depending on how many tight ends they decide to keep.
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This is one player in the Tight End group that really intrigues me in dynasty leagues as a deep roster stash. Rico Gathers has the athleticism that Escobar has, but also comes in with a little more size. As ESPN’s Sports Science highlights here, he has the athleticism, reaction time, and the hands to become an above average NFL tight end.
He will get an opportunity to play only if he establishes himself as a blocker first.
I see him starting the season on the practice squad with an outside shot to make the final 53. The thing he has going for him is that he is 22 and the team doesn’t yet know what they have in him.
With three years in the league, it is likely that Dallas has seen all that Escobar can be. Rico Gathers will become an adequate enough blocker to have a role on short yardage and goal line downs as the 3rd TE. He is a project, but has the potential to be the future of the position for the Dallas Cowboys. Show patience and stash accordingly.
Fantasy Prediction: Starts the season on the practice squad. If you are in a deep roster dynasty league, draft Gathers and wait and see.
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