When fans in Texas think of the Dallas Cowboys‘ tight end position, the first person to come to mind is obviously future Hall-of-Famer Jason Witten. After all, No. 82 has been to nine of the past 10 Pro Bowls as a primary weapon in the Cowboys’ offense. Yet at age 32 – and after taking a beating over the years – Witten may not be in Dallas much longer. The good news is that Witten’s heir-apparent might already be on the Cowboys’ roster in second-year tight end Gavin Escobar.
Escobar was taken by Dallas in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. While he may have been slightly overvalued by the Cowboys, due to his being a small-school prospect from San Diego State, no one could argue that he was an impressive offensive weapon during his tenure with the Aztecs. He was used in a variety of different schemes and formations and finished his college career with 122 receptions for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His only real weakness on game-tape revolved around his pass-blocking habits. At San Diego State, he was often motioned out wide or into the slot. While he definitely seems capable of becoming an in-line pass-blocker, it certainly wasn’t his forte in college. Lucky for Dallas, Escobar might have the best tutor in the NFL ahead of him on the depth chart.
After an underwhelming season filled with more sideline-learning than on-field opportunity, Escobar will need to prove his reliability as a blocker if he hopes to contribute to the Cowboys’ offense this year. As a rookie, he posted a pedestrian nine receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. That’s not bad, but it’s not exactly Rookie of the Year numbers either.
Obviously Escobar will be looking for a far more impressive sophomore performance. The key to his offseason success lies in increasing his weight and strength while maintaining his speed and agility. At 6-foot-6, Escobar came into the NFL weighing around 245-250 pounds. In retrospect, Witten is the same height but outweighed Escobar by a solid 15-20 pounds at that point.
Therefore, Escobar’s offseason goals were created out of necessity. It was clear that if he wanted to succeed as an NFL tight end, he needed to get bigger and stronger — and so it seems he has. By all accounts this offseason, Escobar appears bigger than he did at any point last year or in college. In addition, head coach Jason Garrett has mentioned on several occasions how Escobar’s strength and conditioning has improved by leaps and bounds this offseason.
Obviously these are all promising signs coming out of Big D. While nobody expects Witten to retire any time in the near future, it is quite possible Escobar is being groomed as an eventual replacement, perhaps even sooner than fans may think. At the moment, Dallas is swimming in salary cap issues, and it’s possible owner Jerry Jones would consider trading Witten if he received appropriate value for the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions.
Of course, that would depend entirely on Jones’ and Garrett’s faith in Escobar and his ability to step into the starting role. It’s not a likely scenario for this season of course, but with one more year under the tutelage of Witten, it’s possible that Escobar would be ready to step in and contribute successfully by 2015.
Then again, by this time next year, Escobar could also be labeled a bust by the vicious Dallas media for not living up to his second-round status. It all depends on his ability to prove to coach Garrett – as well as Jerry Jones and perhaps most importantly QB Tony Romo – that he is a capable pass-blocker who’s willing and able to get the job done.