Before I begin with my scouting report of Dallas Cowboys’ second round draft pick Gavin Escobar, I must admit that on draft day I wasn’t thrilled with the pick. Why? Because I was/am convinced that second year player James Hanna has a chance to be the next Aaron Hernandez. So why use a valuable second round selection on a tight end when you already have Jason Witten and James Hanna? Why draft Gavin Escobar in the second round after the recent second round failures of Martellus Bennett and Anthony Fasano? Surely the Cowboys have more needs on their roster than a third tight end, right? These were all questions that were being asked on draft night.
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The answer to these questions are simple; the league is evolving and tight ends are being valued higher than ever before. And the position that Gavin Escobar plays is en vogue in the NFL today with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. The tight end position is becoming more of a weapon than it was five-ten years ago. Once considered to be just undersized offensive lineman used to block on the edges, tight ends have become a mismatch nightmare for defenses. Too big for defensive backs and too quick and agile for linebackers, a tight end in the NFL today is like the queen piece in chess. Moving them all over the field to create the mismatch you want and exploit it.
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Gavin Escobar they drafted him to become a viable receiving threat that defenses must respect. In the past, the Cowboys have tried to pair Jason Witten with players that were blockers first, and receivers second. Dan Campbell, Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett and John Phillips never really scared a defense with their ability to make plays as receivers. With James Hanna and now Gavin Escobar, it is clear that the Cowboys philosophy towards the tight end position has changed.
Here are Gavin Escobar’s measurables compared to the other “move” tight ends in the NFL today:
40 YD Dash
While Escobar lacks the elite top-end speed that you would desire in a “move” tight end, he was the top performer at the NFL combine among tight ends in the three cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, and 60 yard shuttle. What is more important than a 40 yard dash time is the size that the first three players on this list possess. At 6’6, with 33 plus inch arms, Escobar, Gronkowski, and Graham tower over their usual defenders.
The best comparison I can give for Gavin Escobar in the NFL today is Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Physically, they are nearly identical and below are their combine stats to show this:
40 YD Dash
What Kyle Rudolph has been able to do in his short career with the Minnesota Vikings is what Dallas Cowboy fans should expect to see from Gavin Escobar. Rudolph has made a career out of being an outstanding red zone target. In 2012, Rudolph caught nine touchdowns. With basically identical measurables, Cowboy fans should expect similar results from Escobar early in his career.
Like Rudolph, one of Gavin Escobar’s best abilities is what he can do when the ball is in the air. Similar to a basketball player, Escobar uses his body to get into position to “rebound” the ball. At San Diego State, Gavin Escobar was immensely misused. He was cast as a blocker and didn’t get the number of targets that a player of his stature should have received. But there is one play that the Aztecs used that took advantage of Escobar’s skills and that is the wheel route. The wheel route that Escobar ran quite frequently allowed him to be matched up one-on-one with a defender. The below images reflects how Escobar wins and should continue to win on the next level.
Escobar is running a wheel route and he has outside position on this play. The defender is much smaller than Escobar, yet he has the better position on this play. He has squeezed Escobar close to the sideline and to make matters worse, the ball is underthrown. At this point in the play, you couldn’t have coached the defender to be in a better position. The only way for Escobar to “win” on this play is to either make sure that the defender doesn’t intercept the ball or to go up above the defender and make a play on the ball.
There is an old adage that is typically reserved for basketball players that says “You can’t teach height.” And in this case for Escobar, being 6’6 on the football field is a huge advantage. Escobar uses his 6’6 frame and his long arms to make a play on the ball. Escobar routinely makes catches like this and when he enters the NFL he should be a formidable red zone target for Tony Romo from day one.
Below is another shot that I am sure the Dallas Cowboy scouts saw and raved about. In a game against Michigan, Gavin Escobar is running a seam route. Late in the fourth quarter, Escobar makes a spectacular grab on a poorly thrown ball that results into a first down to keep a drive alive.
Escobar recognizes that the ball is severely overthrown and behind him. Escobar slows down and shields the defender from the ball with the backside of his body. What jumps out right away is Escobar’s balance. He can jump and contort his body very well to attack the ball.
Once Escobar gets his hands on the ball, its all over. He had the strongest hands out of all the receivers in the 2013 draft class. Escobar makes a circus catch on the overthrown ball and uses his exceptional length to make the catch. Another thing that I noticed right away when watching Escobar is his enormous catching radius. While he may not be able to streak by defenders down the field because he lacks elite speed like a Jimmy Graham, he can and will catch everything thrown remotely close to him.
One thing to keep an eye on early in Gavin Escobar’s career is his rapport with Tony Romo. Romo seems to favor players who get separation and he really doesn’t love throwing “50-50” balls to his wide receivers. It took Dez Bryant three years into the league before Romo fully trusted Bryant to throw jump balls to him, even in the red zone. Gavin Escobar’s game is all about making tough catches with defenders near him. If Escobar can gain the trust of Tony Romo early in his career, I fully expect him to develop into one of the premier red zone tight ends in the NFL.