The Dallas Cowboys' biggest weakness on the offensive side of the football is most obviously the tight end group. The wide receiver group is second, but it's a distant second to the uncertainty and inexperience at the tight end position currently.
Even before Jason Witten up and retired, the Cowboys weren't in great shape -- mostly because of age-related decline -- but they had a reliable starter who could give them 50-60 snaps a game and could contribute on third downs and in the red zone.
The future Hall of Famer is gone to the Monday Night Football booth on ESPN, leaving an Armageddon-sized crater behind. Gone are 87 targets, 63 catches, 560 yards, and most importantly five touchdown receptions from 2017.
Trying to be the next man up to fill the void are Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers. Combined, they have nine catches for 94 yards and zero touchdowns in the NFL (all from the Swaim Train).
As we try to project who might take the lead role among this tight end group, as opposed to looking for one guy to take 90% of the snaps at the position like Witten might, we should probably look at this as a rotational deployment.
Or a Tight End by Committee.
Let's look at how each guy could be deployed based on potential formations that the Dallas Cowboys like to use.
Geoff Swaim will be in the game when the Dallas Cowboys go with two and three tight end formations. He's got the most experience and Jason Garrett likes to use the guys he knows. Geoff Swaim will get the first shot at running with the first team as the veteran player of the group.
At the moment, Swaim is the most well-rounded of the bunch. A reliable tight end who has caught passes in meaningful games for the team, even if it isn't a lot of them. While experience isn't everything, it matters when looking at players who are going to get playing time.
Swaim might not have the highest upside in the group, but he's a trusted and reliable player.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Tight End Blake Jarwin to the practice squad as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
The Cowboys front office was so high on him that they activated him from the practice squad toward the end of the 2017 season to make sure he wasn't signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.
He's a player who could fill a "move tight end" role on the team, using him in 11 and 12 personnel packages as a big slot receiver in certain matchups. Dak Prescott has gone on record about the team wanting to utilize more "run-pass options" (or RPOs) this season, and Jarwin's size and receiving ability immediately make him a threat.
I could see them using Swaim as the in-line tight end and then splitting Jarwin out wide to take advantage of linebacker matchups the team likes.
He can be a threat down the seam and in the middle of the field that Witten hasn't been in a couple of years because of the aforementioned age-related decline.
The Cowboys have always done a good job finding and developing undrafted free agents and when Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com was asked who could be the next great undrafted free agent, he had Jarwin on his mind.
"The way that the coaching staff was using Blake Jarwin tells me that they’re expecting big things from him. He has been splitting snaps with Geoff Swaim throughout these practices for the starting tight end spot, so he’s going to have a chance to grow."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Dalton Schultz is probably the most intriguing of the prospects. He was an impact player for the Stanford Cardinal and running back Bryce Love as they racked up more than 2,000 yards rushing in 2017.
His opportunities as a pass catcher were limited, but he flashed some tools that show he has the ability to be a solid receiving tight end in the NFL.
At the moment, he's probably the second tight end in the game when the team goes to two and three tight end formations.
Typically, tight ends struggle to adapt to the NFL in their rookie seasons because they aren't often asked to block as much. Schultz already comes with a bit of that pedigree.
The challenges for him will be learning the nuances of an NFL playbook as well as his responsibilities in the passing game.
The most hyped of all the tight ends for the Dallas Cowboys is Tight End Rico Gathers.
In the 2017 preseason, he flashed a ton of potential in the passing game, showing off his hands and athleticism as he caught a couple of touchdown passes. After he suffered a concussion, he was placed on IR for most of the season and really didn't get another shot. He comes into camp with a lot to prove, mostly that he can be a reliable option for the team on the 53-man roster.
He's still super raw and has more to learn in the blocking aspect of the game, and the team is taking a tough love approach to Rico in hopes that they can motivate him to earn a larger role than what he's looking at right now.
While we are all intrigued by the prospect of Gathers in the passing game, he's on the outside looking in at the moment for a team that may not be able to keep four tight ends.
Like Jarwin, as it stands now, Gathers' best role would be in passing situations in 11 personnel (one running back and three tight ends) or as a move tight end lined up in the slot to take advantage of linebacker or safety mismatches.
He has the athleticism to beat linebackers and the size to box out defensive backs, and as fans of the team, we should hope that he earns a role on this squad because they definitely could use his size and athleticism in the red zone. But I wouldn't hold my breath on it.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
According to reports, the tight ends that have been ahead of the pack in OTAs and minicamps have been Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim. Training camp is a whole different ball game, though, as the team will put pads on and the competition will heighten.
Over the next couple months we'll find out if one of these tight ends rises to the top, or if a committee approach is in store for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?
Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.
While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.
For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.
Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.
“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”
Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.
The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.
If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.
Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.
Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.
If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.
A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.
In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.
When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.
While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.
After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices
With Left Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Defensive End Taco Charlton rehabbing a shoulder and foot injury, and Right Defensive End Randy Gregory currently suspended indefinitely, there have been plenty of snaps at defensive end for other players to make a name for themselves in the offseason training activities (OTAs) and this past week's minicamp. The two players that stood out above all others on the defense were defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder.
You might be asking yourself, "what does it matter? DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the starters. Why should we care about a couple of backups."
First, the backup defensive ends for the Dallas Cowboys will play. After DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the leaders in defensive end snaps in 2018, Randy Gregory got 44% of the snaps on defense and Taco Charlton saw 39%. Dorance Armstrong, who played sparingly as a rookie, saw 26% of the snaps. The defensive ends that make the 53-man roster are going to get playing time.
Secondly, there's no guarantee that DeMarcus Lawrence will be ready for week one. Tyrone Crawford, who was the starter at right defensive end in 2018, could miss week one if the NFL deems his offseason altercation is worthy of a suspension. That leaves a whole lot of potential snaps at the left defensive end spot if either of those two guys misses week one.
Dorance Armstrong, the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round pick from 2018, caught the eye of several observers from the media and finished his offseason with a strong minicamp.
"These coaches have to be happy with what they’ve seen from Dorance Armstrong during these practices. Armstrong has been mainly filling in for DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but on Wednesday he switched over to the right. There were several snaps where he was a handful for Cam Fleming to handle. Armstrong started off well last season before hitting the rookie wall. He physically looks bigger and is also now equipped with the knowledge of how he has to prepare to play at a high level the entire season. Keep an eye on Armstrong to make that jump from the first to second year."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Armstrong had a really nice training camp as a rookie and as Broaddus notes, tailed off during the regular season. Reports are that he's added size this offseason -- as most players do between their first and second year -- and if all the reports are correct, could be a breakout player in the making.
Kerry Hyder is another intriguing player and one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions by the Dallas Cowboys front office.
Coming from the Detroit Lions, where they used Hyder as a nose tackle in Matt Patricia's 3-4 alignment, he was played severely out of position. In 2016, playing primarily as a defensive end, Hyder recorded eight sacks for the Lions. In 2017, he suffered a torn achilles which kept him out all of that year.
Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he gets to return to his more natural defensive end position. And he's making some noise in these offseason practices.
D-Linemen never get any shine during OTAs, so today is for them. With Tyron Smith & La'el Collins sitting out today, Dorance Armstrong & Kerry Hyder absolutely wrecked practice. Murdered it. I legitimately don't think Dak would've gotten a single throw out if sacks were allowed.
Of course not playing against the starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will allow players to shine a bit more, but let's not forget that Cam Fleming started in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots before signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor Williams, who has been getting snaps at tackle as well, is no slouch as a former All-American for the Texas Longhorns.
Here's what Bryan Broaddus had to say about Kerry Hyder in one of the previous OTAs his "Scout's Notebook" from May 22nd.
"I have to be careful with my love for veteran defensive linemen, but Kerry Hyder looks like a different man playing at end instead of head-up tackle. The coaching change in Detroit did him no favors last season. Having to play in a spot where he had to fight blocks all day to now working on the edge in space is a good thing for him. It appears that Hyder has his quickness back, but he also has some pass rush moves in his tool belt. I thought maybe they were going to use him as an under-tackle, but putting him back at end might be his best shot at making the roster."
Bryan Broaddus - Dallas Cowboys.com
The Cowboys found a really good player in Kerry Hyder. He's capable of playing some 3-technique defensive tackle if needed as well as on the edge. He has a good motor and is able to make plays in the running game.
With the emergence of Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong this offseason, it puts Taco Charlton behind the eight ball as the team heads to Oxnard. If they continue to play well, it's a real possibility that Charlton could be a gameday inactive during the regular season, especially if Randy Gregory is reinstated.
However they end up being deployed, this group of defensive ends will cause fits for opposing offensive lines. They've been aiming for waves of pass rushers for Rod Marinelli's defense and for the first time since becoming defensive coordinator, he looks to have just that.
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Who Could Be Traded Before Week 1
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Takeaways from Dallas Cowboys OTA’s
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Kasey Redfern, a Name Dallas Cowboys Fans Might Want to get to Know
Star Blog2 weeks ago
3 Reasons 2019 Will be Dak Prescott’s Best Season Yet
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could Amari Cooper Threaten Cowboys Receiving Records in 2019?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Will DE Taco Charlton “Break Out” In 2019?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Post-OTA’s Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Cowboys CB Donovan Olumba Should Compete for Roster Spot