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Draft Series 4 of 9: Tight-ends

There are many positions on the Cowboys team that are considered a strength.  The tight-end position may be the strongest.  The Cowboys have three very good tight-ends on the roster.  If there is one position, other than quarterback, the Cowboys will likely not address in the draft it is the tight-end.

Jason Witten (starter)

Witten burst onto the scene in his rookie year despite being second string.  Bill Parcells drafted Witten in the 3rd round of the 2003 season.  Witten did start 7 games that season and had 35 receptions.  Witten poses all kinds of matchup problems for defences.  He has too much speed for linebackers to cover, and far too much size for safeties.  In his 7 seasons, Witten has only gone over 1,000 yards twice, but that is not his complete contribution.  While Witten acts as a safety net for Romo and is always available for his quarterback, he is a phenomenal blocker.  While it is arguable, Witten is the best all-around tight-end in the league and has proven it in every opportunity.  Witten has solidified the position and it is unlikely, barring injury, that it will change in the next 5 years.

Martellus Bennett

Heading into last season the Cowboys were very proud of the opportunities that would present themselves in their “two tight-end set” formation.  While it never really panned out the way the Cowboys hoped, the potential is still there.  As second on the depth chart, Bennett possess similar attributes to Witten, only more so.  He is bigger and faster.  The difference is Bennett has taken longer to adjust to being a professional football player.  While Bennett has shown potential, he has failed to capitalize on a consistent basis.  Not all the fault goes to Bennett, however, quarterback Tony Romo often looks to a number of different targets before Bennett.  In his first season, Martellus had 4 touchdown receptions.  In his second season he had none.  Bennett has all the talent and stature to be a really successful player in the NFL, the Cowboys just need to do their part to bring him into the offence.  When they do, the will have a very strong pair of tight-ends.

Jon Phillips

One of the biggest surprises of last year was the emergence of third-string tight-end, Jon Phillips.  Phillips was featured in a bunch of key plays in games down the stretch and playoffs.  He was featured more as an H-back coming out of the backfield.  Phillips showed his versatility as a pass catcher and a blocker.  Being a rookie, Phillips had a steep learning curve last year.  The Cowboys were, no doubt, very surprised at his ability to catch on and make an impact.  At 6’5, 255 lbs., Phillips is in the “Witten mold” of tight-ends.  Look for the Cowboys to try to expose defences to Phillips out of the backfield again this year.

With these three in the stable the Cowboys are unlikely to invest another draft pick in the tight-end position, but if they do, here are the top targets.

Potential Draft Picks

1. Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma) – 6’5, 261 lbs. Gresham is a great prospect for teams that play the wide open system that require their tight-ends to be good receivers. Gresham has wideout speed and great hands. He has good strength to break tackles and causes matchup problems for defences. He has had injury problems and that has to be a concern. Gresham also is a poor blocker. Bigger linebackers and linemen can out muscle Gresham off the line. (1st Round)

2. Aaron Hernandez (Florida) – 6’2, 250 lbs. Hernandez has terrific burst of the line and is a great receiver, but as the trend seems to be, his blocking is not strong. He is slightly undersized at 6’2. But does have decent speed and great hands. (2ndE Round)

3. Anthony McCoy (USC) – 6’5, 255 lbs. While McCoy won’t run away from anyone, the man is a beast. He is a huge target and positions himself well. He is a great blocker and has massive paws that help him move ends out of the play. He has awesome footwork for a big man and tremendous strength. (2nd – 3rd Round)

4. Rob Gronkowski (Arizona) – 6’6, 258 lbs. Gronkowski missed all of his senior season at Arizona with a nagging back issue. That injury has caused him to fall on many teams draft boards. The man is a beast when healthy. He isn’t the fastest tight-end, but has serviceable speed. He is very good technically and can block well. He has great strength and good hands. Gronkowski is an all-around good prospect. The key is whether he can get and stay healthy. (3rd – 4th Round)

Other Notables
1. Dennis Pitta (BYU) – 6’5, 250 lbs.
2. Ed Dickson (Oregon) – 6’5, 243 lbs.
3. Tony Moeaki (Iowa) – 6’3, 252 lbs.

Next up: Offensive Line


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