The Cowboys find gifted tight ends, but then spend premium resources trying to find more

Over the last 20 years, the Dallas Cowboys have been spoiled by pretty good tight end play. Drafted in 2003, Jason Witten played for the Cowboys for 16 years, catching 1,215 passes for 12,977 yards, and is sure to be headed to the Hall of Fame soon. However, despite having an excellent one, the Cowboys always had a fascination with spending premium draft stock on tight ends. With Witten on the roster, Dallas drafted a tight end in the second round three times. (Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett and Gavin Escobar) Old habits die hard, as the Cowboys are still held captive by the same philosophy.

Last season, Jake Ferguson broke for the team with 71 receptions for 761 yards and five scores. Ferguson has a unique blend of athleticism with a wide catch radius, guided by a terrific set of hands and the potential to make plays after the catch. Ferguson was a sleeper last season who earned a Pro Bowl trip. Ferguson’s success has drawn the attention of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who has praised Ferguson’s talents. Ferguson’s bright 2023 season has overshadowed last year’s second-round pick, Luke Schoonmaker.

The selection of Schoonmaker was puzzling because many didn’t have that high of a grade on Schoonmaker, and it seemed as if the Cowboys had their heart set on a tight end no matter what, even after Dalton Kincaid and Sam La Porta were taken off the board. Despite his impressive RAS score of 9.86, it still was a head-scratching selection by the team. By taking Schoonmaker, Dallas passed on O’Cyrus Torrence (OG), Sydney Brown (S), and Drew Sanders (LB), which looks worse in hindsight, with Schoonmaker having a total of eight receptions for 65 yards in his first season. Also, you must consider Schoonmaker isn’t an exceptional blocking tight end.

The Shoonmaker pick becomes more baffling because the team can consistently unearth tight ends. Many scolded the front office for letting go of Dalton Schultz after he had a productive 2021 season with Dak Prescott and played out the 2022 season on the franchise tag. The Cowboys were comfortable with parting with Schultz because of what they had in Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. Hendershot spent time off the field last season after landing on injured reserve but has demonstrated that he is a diverse receiving option at tight end that can work to find favorable matchups. Frankly, he’s now a luxury, and if the team wanted to shop for one of their tight ends, he would be the first candidate for a trade. He doesn’t offer the same blocking upside as most of his other counterparts and isn’t too dissimilar from what the team already has.

Plus, factor in the newcomers, making it hard for Hendershot to maintain the favor of the coaches. John Stephens entered camp last season as a converted wide receiver and immediately flashed his potential as a receiving mismatch – too quick for linebackers and too big for some defensive backs. Since suffering a torn ACL over the summer of last year, he has shown good progress in his recovery and will enter camp ready to compete for a roster spot. He’s not alone, though. The team also added two tight ends after the draft as undrafted free agents, Alec Holler and Brevyn Spann-Ford, the latter of whom showed on film as a punishing blocker on the move that could help fill the void left by Sean McKeon, who was unsigned after this past season.

While depth is a good problem, the Cowboys have too much of it at the position, and it all goes back to the Cowboys spending premium draft capital at a position they can replenish almost effortlessly. It’s not Luke Schoonmaker’s fault that the team thought so highly of him, but it is irksome that the team could have easily found a later-round option to fill a similar role. The loaded tight end group deserves equal praise and scorn for the Cowboys’ proficiency at finding talent in a position group, though they are not fully aware of how to appraise it. Hopefully, Jake Ferguson will continue his ascent as one of the budding players at his position, and the Cowboys will find a purpose for their bevy of tight ends, trade bait, or otherwise, unless they risk having too much of a good thing.


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