With recent high-profile acquisitions in multiple demand positions, it’s clear that Dallas has decided now is the time to act. Though other roster holes have been filled, the tight end remains unsettled in free agency following the departure of Dalton Schultz. After Schultz found a new home in Houston, sophomore Jake Ferguson now sits at the top of the Cowboys depth chart. Ferguson looked promising in minimal snaps, catching the attention of All-Pro Travis Kelce. Ferguson isn’t alone, however, with fellow rookie Peyton Hendershot and four-year veteran Sean McKeon providing support and solid versatility.
While there’s a lot to like about this tight end room, it’s a tame group with no real standout or elite attributes. Ferguson and Hendershot have shown promise as receivers, but lack pedigree and ideal inline blocking ability. McKeon is a good blocker but lacks reception power. Adding a superior athlete or a stronger blocker would do wonders, and luckily for Dallas, this draft class is filled with talent. Here are five prospects who could fill the role at various times during draft weekend.
Darnell Washington, 6ft 7, 264lbs, Georgia
Darnell Washington was once a top-25 recruit whose playing time dwindled when phenom Brock Bowers came to Athens. He decided to stay with the Bulldogs and while his production was tiny, he showed enough to intrigue scouts and fans alike. That hype escalated at the combine, where he drew comparisons to a young Jason Witten of eerily similar height and athletic test numbers.
Washington is surprisingly nimble for its size. He won’t shake defenders out of their shoes, but can miss or just run over guys with nifty cuts. His distance running is a tad sluggish being a long downfield strider, but he has elite agility for his size.
He’s a versatile receiver as he can be a safety blanket underneath or use his downfield physical attributes to win at the catch point, while a huge catch radius allows him to pull off some insane catches.
Washington’s best trait, however, is his blocking. His technique can be inconsistent, but when he gets his hands on the defender’s chest and his feet planted, his inline ability is easily the best in this class. Given his natural size and strength, he is a rare breed that could be considered a sixth offensive lineman.
Washington is the first tight end to give Dallas another option offensively. Using Washington as an in-line blocker and developing his reception while Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot can be deflected is as ideal as it gets for the way Dallas worked historically under Kellen Moore. What matters, however, is how the club think it would fit under Mike McCarthy’s plan.
Some may consider picking a blocking tight end in the first round, but Washington’s athleticism and receiving advantages would certainly make the pick worthwhile.
Tucker Kraft, 6ft 5, 254lbs, State of South Dakota
Tucker Kraft made the obvious comparisons to Jackrabbit alum, Dallas Goedert, but the similarities are uncanny. From a physical and athletic point of view, they are almost identical twins.
Their playstyles are also eerily similar.
Kraft combines a well-built frame with reliable hands and good speed, albeit with a severely underdeveloped route tree. Once caught, he’s an absolute piece of work to bring him down. He shows high contact balance and the ability to move his legs through tackles with good power. This power also leads to blocking as his hands and legs are strong and sturdy. He lacks technique as a blocker, but his strength often compensates for poor hand placement and an uneven base.
He lacks nuanced technique as both a receiver and blocker, stemming from his minimal experience and lack of high-end competition in the state of South Dakota. The power cap is extremely high, but it will take a year or two for him to adjust to the NFL and work out the intricacies of the position.
If his running and blocking technique can be developed, Kraft has the athleticism and skills to take a leap as a true TE1.
Luke Schoonmaker, 6ft 5, 251lbs, Michigan
Luke Schoonmaker really does come from the same hometown as you, and seeing him live at just 16 convinced me he could make it to the NFL level. He was a 3-star recruit who also played baseball as well as multiple positions on the football field including QB and WR. In Michigan he was able to show off his athleticism to the full as he was used as a versatile pawn on offense.
Schoonmaker was used as a blocker and often followed as the lead guy receiver, running backs and even the quarterback. He developed a very good understanding of who and where to block throughout the game.
He’s rarely been asked to block inline on an edge defender, but he can throw in a chip or two if asked. As a receiver, Michigan liked to use his post-catch ability and overall athleticism to shake openfield defenders or beat taller downfield defenders. Schoonmaker can play with a little too much finesse at times, lacking the physical strength to knock out smaller defenders or compete in traffic.
Schoonmaker is very good at what he’s asked to do, but at the next level, those responsibilities will change. His mistakes can be corrected and developed, since his advantage is quite high both as a receiver and as a blocker. Schoonmaker could slip into Dallas as a heir to McKeon with primary blocker responsibilities, but also get reps as receivers along with Ferguson and Hendershot, creating a diverse trio.
Brenton Strange, 6ft 4, 253lbs, Penn State
Brenton Strange is one of the most overlooked candidates in this class as he has not displayed the receptivity or elite athleticism of some of his peers. Strange is versatile and the kind of player that NFL teams covet. He can block both inline and as a move TE and is an effective piece in the passing game. Penn State fielded him inline, in the slot, or as an H-back.
Strange was rarely used but proved an effective receiver. He always finds weak points in cover and can separate from defenders even without high-end athletics. He lacks elite wobble after catch, but is extremely difficult to defeat in the open field due to his hard running. Strange has shown that he can receive from any position, but can also be a lead, inline, or even a move blocker. He is ready to take on any defender and attacks with good power and pad level.
Arguably the second-best blocker in this class behind Washington, Strange can find a home on an NFL roster for as long as he likes. With the finesse of Ferguson and Hendershot, Strange would make a real grit-and-grind addition. There are inconsistencies in his game that need ironing out, but Strange has the skills to be a quality rotary piece in the short and long term.
Davis Allen, 6ft 6, 245lbs, Clemson
In four seasons as a Tiger, Allen has been a consistent performance. He offers his QB a big and long target while also offering some blocking ability. Dubbed the “human vacuum” by NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, Allen has some of the most reliable hands in the class.
Allen demonstrated this at the combine and looked extraordinarily comfortable during exercises. It has a large catch radius and adapts very well downwards. Although he has elite ball skills, his lack of elite athleticism is evident in his lethargic distance running and post-catch movement.
He also struggles in competitive situations, but makes up for this by constantly finding weak spots in cover. As a blocker, he struggles to overwhelm larger defenders, gets thrown out of position, but has shown very good technique. If he can build some mass to gain strength, his blocking has serious potential.
With a tight end class this stacked up, it’s easy to overlook someone like Allen. However, his skills and high floor make him a great option to add to any tight end space across the league. Having such reliable hands and ball skills while still being able to block relatively well are massive bonuses, even without favored Athletics. Dallas could use Allen as a tandem with the youngsters as they all develop together over the next 3-4 years.
Source : sports.yahoo.com