The Dallas Cowboys tight end group saw their ups and downs in 2020, starting with Blake Jarwin’s season-ending ACL injury in the season-opener. With Jason Witten no longer dominating the snap count at tight end, expectations were high for Jarwin coming into the year.
Unfortunately, those expectations were shut down, after only one catch for 12 yards against the Rams. Still, that created an opportunity for another Cowboys tight end to step up, and Dalton Schultz delivered a breakout performance.
After being drafted in the fourth round in 2018, Schultz failed to live up to that pick in his first two years. Whether it be from getting stuck on the end of the depth chart, or a preseason injury in 2019 that slowed his development, the selection of Schultz was starting to look like a miss.
Schultz joins Witten, Novacek and Cosbie
However, that narrative certainly changed last fall when he became only the fourth tight end in Cowboys history to record 60 catches in a season. It’s pretty impressive for a guy that entered the year needing to excel just to make the roster.
Schultz was targeted 89 times last year, fourth-most on the team, and his 63 catches ranked third on the roster and sixth among tight ends across the league. After Dak Prescott went down, he quickly became Andy Dalton’s safety valve on passing downs.
As for the others, Blake Bell lived up to his reputation as a reliable blocking tight end that could occasionally make a play in the passing game. The Cowboys also made signing Sean McKeon after the draft a top priority, and he was able to see limited time playing 65 offensive snaps, mainly as an inline tight end, and 137 special teams snaps.
Which Cowboys Tight Ends Are Returning?
Schultz returns for the final year of his rookie deal, while Jarwin should be back healthy for the second year of his four-year extension he signed last offseason. McKeon also returns for his second professional season and should push to earn more snaps in 2021.
Another Razorback in Dallas
In addition, Dallas brought in free agent Jeremy Sprinkle who spent the first four years of his career in Washington as a blocking tight end. Coming out of Arkansas, Sprinkle possessed impressive upside to develop into a starting-caliber tight end, but his size and athleticism have yet to consistently show up as a pass-catcher.
Which Cowboys Tight Ends Aren’t Returning in 2021?
After a year in Dallas, Bell chose to return to Kansas City where he won a Super Bowl in 2019. The “Belldozer” signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs.
Cole Hikutini also agreed to a one-year deal with the Giants. After nearly making the Cowboys roster in 2020, he spent the season on the practice squad.
What Do Cowboys Need at Tight End?
Essentially, the answer could be nothing if Jarwin returns healthy and Schultz continues to be the kind of two-way inline tight end Dallas drafted him to be. The two have skill sets that complement each other well and should make a good one-two punch at the position in 2020.
However, like the wide receivers , there is some flexibility at the position due to Schultz and Jarwin’s contracts. Schultz is set to be a free agent after this season, and Jarwin only has $2M guaranteed on his contract after this year.
If the Cowboys were on the clock and a tight end was clearly the top player on their board, nothing is finically stopping them from making that move. Still, this is likely a day-three position, and don’t be shocked if Dallas tries to spot another player that can compete with McKeon and Sprinkle as a blocking option.
Cowboys Draft Targets at Tight End
Kyle Pitts Among Cowboys Draft Targets
As I said, this is likely a day-three priority, but by now, every Cowboys fan knows how Jerry Jones feels about Florida’s Kyle Pitts . Pitts is one of the top players in this NFL Draft and one of the best receiving tight ends ever evaluated.
At just over 6-5 with 4.40 speed, he’s a mismatch nightmare for any defender in coverage. Pitts only weighs 245 pounds and will likely never offer much as a blocker, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t bring value to the table in the run game.
How Would Pitts Fit?
Run-Pass Options are showing up more and more in the NFL game, and Kellen Moore has not hesitated to make them a part of his playbook. Pitts is honestly just a big wide receiver, but like most talented receivers, when they take off deep, it garners attention.
With defenses consistently preparing for RPO’s, there is no way a play-side linebacker or safety is watching Pitts release up the seam without respecting his ability as a receiver. When that happens, the ball is handed off to the running back, and Pitts has subtracted a defender, no different than if he blocked him out of the play.
Best Defense is a Good Offense
I know many Cowboys fans may turn their nose up to the idea of drafting a tight end at ten with the talent gap between this offense and defense. Still, if Pitts is still on the board, he adds an element to this offense that can help it return to one of the premier ball-control units in the league.
That helps the defense, no different than the selection of Ezekiel Elliott did in 2016. The only issue is I seriously doubt Pitts makes it to the tenth pick.
Day 2 Tight Ends
Day two options could include Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth , who has a similar skill set to Schultz and could be a day-one contributor. Miami’s Brevin Jordan is an extremely athletic H-Back that can be a versatile option in the pass and run game.
Boston College’s Hunter Long is a massive player who can line up and block, as well as use his big body to box out defenders as a receiver. Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble and Georgia’s Tre McKitty are also a couple of guys that could slide into the end of day two.
Tremble is a physical player that blocks in a variety of ways while also being a tough player to bring down with the ball in his hands. McKitty is an uber-talented yet raw prospect that could be a steal if developed properly.
Tight End Options on Day 3
On day three, I’m keeping my eye on several players. Duke’s Noah Gray is an advanced route-runner with a similar physical nature to Tremble when it comes to fighting for every inch.
Boise State’s John Bates, Kansas State’s Briley Moore and Ohio State’s Luke Farrell also offer intriguing options that could push to be the third tight end on this roster.