Whether or not the Dallas Cowboys should have decided to mimic the New England Patriots‘ two-tight end offense in 2013 is now a mute point since America’s Team used its second-round pick on Gavin Escobar. The pass-catching specialist out of San Diego State was easily the best tight end in the 2013 NFL Draft and now he has a chance to shine alongside Jason Witten in Dallas.
Of course, one can’t forget about James Hanna, the Cowboys’ sixth-round pick in 2012 who showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. Dallas lost up-and-coming star John Phillips via free agency, but replaced him with Escobar, so now the team still has two top-notch young tight ends to learn from and play alongside Witten.
Despite Hanna’s stellar production in limited playing time as a rookie, Escobar will likely see the field more in 2013 when the Cowboys revert to the 12 personnel, which they say will be the basis of their offense in the upcoming season. Dallas used two tight ends heavily in 2011 with Martellus Bennett as the No. 2 man, lining him and Witten up together 320 times. In 2012, the Cowboys only put in two tight ends on 195 plays, but expect that number to double this year.
The Patriots utilize the incredibly-productive combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and although the Cowboys aren’t expecting record-breaking numbers from Witten, Escobar and Hannah in 2013, they are looking for efficiency and consistency — two things that are uncommon in Dallas. Specifically, Escobar will need to be a second or third option for Tony Romo on pass plays instead of just another security blanket like most second-string tight ends. The 12 personnel often includes plays designed around each of the tight ends, so Escobar will find himself targeted third, second and even first on many of Romo’s drop backs this season.
Unfortunately, Romo is still out after having a cyst removed from his back last month, so Escobar will likely have to wait until training camp to begin working with his quarterback, which doesn’t bode well for their chemistry right off the bat. So the key for Escobar this offseason will be learning the Cowboys’ new offense and knowing exactly when to look for the ball on certain plays and then putting that to the test on the field once Romo returns.
Escobar will need to be aggressive on his routes and attack the ball, especially up in the air and/or in traffic because those are the types of routes he’ll run as the No. 2 tight end in an offense designed around the 12 personnel. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Escobar is basically a giant receiver anyway, so he’ll likely be split out wide a lot, which isn’t a bad thing considering he’s not a good blocker.
In 2011, the Cowboys ran the ball 70 percent of the time with the 12 personnel on the field and rushed on 61 percent of their plays in that set in 2012. That percentage should drop again in 2013 considering the switch in offensive philosophy, but Hanna will likely get plenty of snaps since he’s a better blocker than Escobar and the Cowboys should look to get plenty of carries for DeMarco Murray, who will be counting on blocking from his two tight ends without a fullback on the field.
So in addition to trying to get ready for the upcoming season without his quarterback, Escobar will also need to work on his blocking so that it won’t be obvious the Cowboys are about to run the ball when he comes off the field. That’s easier said than done, so being the second-round pick in Dallas won’t be a cakewalk for Escobar this year.