When Jason Witten up and retired just before the start of the second round of the NFL Draft this past offseason, the Cowboys were left with an enormous hole at the Tight End position. The Cowboys had opportunities to address the position in the draft in the second and third round, but stayed with their pre-draft plan and addressed it in the middle rounds by selecting Dalton Schultz in the fourth round.
The message the coaches and front office preached was they would attempt to fill the production void left by the future hall of famer with a committee approach with veteran Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, and the newly added rookie Schultz.
It was a risky approach at a position that had provided elite production for a decade and a half, but given when the void was created, they didn't really have many options.
Credit the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff for not panicking and staying the course at the position with players that they've been rather fond of. In particular, Blake Jarwin, who the team promoted from the practice squad late last season when the Philadelphia Eagles came calling attempting to sing Jarwin to their roster.
While they're going to be hard pressed to get the same elite-level production out of players with such limited experience in the NFL, as they did out of Witten. They're approach may not have paid off early in the season, but over the last eight games, the tight end position has been really productive for the Cowboys.
If we go back and look at the leading receiver at tight end, the Cowboys got. Pretty solid season out of their group of imtight ends. With Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, and Blake Jarwin each leading the position in at least one game (though Rico's two targets, no receptions game hardly led the team), the TE1 combined for 63 targets, 50 receptions, 530 yards, and four touchdowns.
Those numbers at first glance may not look great, but they sit just outside of the top ten if you compare them to individual tight end performances in 2018.
Obviously that isn't prime or peak Jason Witten who was putting together 80-100 catch seasons during his prime like clockwork. Even if you just look at what Jason Witten has done since he turned 30, it's still not matching his production. From his age 30 season on, Witten averaged 106 targets per season for 76 receptions, 756 yards, and four touchdowns. Where the 2018 tight end production does compare favorably is to Jason Witten's 2017 where he saw 87 targets, caught 63 passes for 560 yards, and five touchdowns.
Found this interesting:
Cowboys tight ends in 2018: 68 catches, 710 yards, 4 TDs
Cowboys tight ends in 2017: 69 catches, 673 yards, 6 TDs
Jason Witten's 2017 and the Cowboys TE1 2018 is very similar in production.
However, with what Blake Jarwin's done over the last four games of the season, if you project that over a 16 game season, you'd get 80 receptions on 100 targets for 912 yards and 12 touchdowns. Now that production looks a lot like what Jason Witten did for much of his career.
Obviously, it's not as simple as taking a four game sample size and projecting it out, but we can see why the Cowboys were so excited about Jarwin as a player. He's displayed excellent hands, route running, and athleticism since he's been unleashed in the last four weeks.
As if Blake Jarwin’s game wasn’t awesome enough, he was able to accomplish something that Witten never did; catch three touchdowns in a game. That’s pretty incredible considering how many passes he caught over the course of his career.
The Cowboys brass took a huge risk in attemptin to fill the Grand Canyon-sized hole left by Jason Witten’s retirement. While they started out slowly, the tight end group for the Cowboys is playing really good football right now and could have a huge impact on how deep the Dallas Cowboys go in the playoffs this year.