The Dallas Cowboys have been searching for years to find a complement to Jason Witten at the tight end posit..."/> The Dallas Cowboys have been searching for years to find a complement to Jason Witten at the tight end posit..."/>

Could Dallas Cowboys’ James Hanna Be The Next Aaron Hernandez?


The Dallas Cowboys have been searching for years to find a complement to Jason Witten at the tight end position.  They have invested two second round selections in Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett, neither of whom is still with the team. The Cowboys also used a sixth round pick on John Phillips who they believed was going to be a steal. But during the Hall of Fame preseason game in 2010, Phillips tore his ACL and never returned to form. 

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end James Hanna (84) runs after a catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have  leaned on a base offense of two wide receivers  two tight ends, and one running back going back to 2003 when Bill Parcells took over the team.  The two tight end offense allows offensive coordinators the flexibility to productively run or throw the ball from this set. But the Cowboys’ recent problems with this alignment has been the fact that Fasano, Bennett and Phillips have never struck fear into opposing defenses due to their lack of receiving skill. They were primarily run blockers who every now and then could make a play in the passing game.

But in 2012, the Dallas Cowboys used a sixth round draft pick on Oklahoma tight end James Hanna. Hanna is much different than his predecessors in that he is more of a receiving threat than a blocker.  Hanna stole the show at the combine after being the top performer for the tight end group in the 40 yard dash, 3 cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, and 60 yard shuttle.

James Hanna is a prime example of the new breed of tight end in the NFL. Hanna is built like an over-sized wide receiver, but yet still possesses the speed and quickness to give defensive coordinators fits. This new group of “move” tight ends, also known as “jokers” can be deployed all over the field to create mismatches.

When comparing James Hanna to other well known “joker” tight ends around the league, you can see why Dallas was very interested in the Oklahoma Sooner during the 2012 NFL Draft:




40 yard


Bench Press

James Hanna






Jared Cook






Aaron Hernandez






Jimmy Graham






As you can see, Hanna possess the fastest 40 yard dash time when compared to some of the other elite athletes at the tight end position. Hanna’s size and speed when used in the correct situation can produce some terrific results.

Below is a play that could become a staple of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys offense. During a week 15 game of the 2012 season, the Dallas Cowboys found a mismatch they liked; James Hanna versus the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers. Here the Cowboys run a drag route to Hanna, where he uses his speed to run by the Steeler defenders. 

The Dallas Cowboys come out in their base offense, two wide receivers  two tight-ends and one running back. James Hanna (highlighted) is lined up in the slot against Steelers OLB James Harrison. This a designed mismatch as Pittsburgh is forced to stay in their base defense as well. The Cowboys isolate Hanna on Harrison in hopes that Hanna can win with his exceptional speed and quickness.

Hanna quickly beats Harrison off the line of scrimmage. Harrison even gets away with a quick hold in an attempt to slow down Hanna’s release. Troy Polamalu gets caught looking into the backfield at Tony Romo’s eyes and the other safety on the play, Ryan Clark, is occupied with the other two wide receivers at the top of the screen.

Hanna gets quick separation from Harrison and Romo releases the ball to the open receiver. Primarily due to the formation, the middle of the field is wide open for Hanna in which to operate. This makes him an easy target for Romo, as the only defender (Harrison) is far behind Hanna.


Hanna catches the ball and continues up-field before he is eventually stopped after a 29 yard gain. This big play up the seam gets the Cowboys into striking range where they eventually score a touchdown. A simple mismatch between an elite athlete at tight end versus an outside linebacker provides the Dallas Cowboys a spark on offense.

James Hanna exceeded expectations in 2012 by passing John Phillips on the depth chart and provided a handful of big plays for the offense. Heading into the 2013 season he is clearly the number two tight end on the roster. As the NFL continues to evolve more and more into a passing league, James Hanna could provide the explosive plays the Dallas Cowboys have longed for from the number two tight end position.