Don’t sleep on this Cowboys sleeper at tight end
After trying out during the Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp earlier this month, this undrafted free agent at tight end has a chance to make an impact in 2016.
Entering his 14th season in the NFL, Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten has been a stalwart of America’s Team at the tight end position for over a decade. And at age 34, it doesn’t appear Witten has any plans to hang up his cleats anytime soon.
Behind the future Hall of Fame veteran on the depth chart, many talented tight ends have come and gone. Names like Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett, John Phillips and Scott Chandler have all toiled under Witten’s massive shadow in Dallas.
And this current crop of tight ends playing behind Witten are no different. As of now, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim and rookie Rico Gathers are all on the Cowboys depth chart.
So with the roster fairly plump at the position, it was a small blimp on the radar last week when the Cowboys opted to waive long snapper Brandon Hartson in order to sign an undrafted tight end out of Wisconsin named Austin Traylor following his try out at Dallas’ recent rookie minicamp.
But one longtime columnist for DallasCowboys.com warns that this signing should not be easily dismissed as just another camp body.
"“And don’t go to sleep on this Austin Traylor, the recently signed workout guy out of Wisconsin,” wrote longtime columnist Mickey Spagnola on the team’s official site on Friday. “A fractured arm limited the fifth-year senior to just eight games last season, but he is 6-3, 250 and a former two-time high school team captain in football and basketball. Guy even won the Columbus County (Ohio) Slam Dunk Contest.”"
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Used as a blocking tight end for the majority of his time at Wisconsin, Traylor improved his skills as a receiver last year recording 14 catches for 210 yards and four touchdowns despite suffering that broken arm that cost him nearly half the season.
With the Cowboys doubling down at running back this offseason, drafting Ohio State runner Ezekiel Elliott in the first round and signing veteran Alfred Morris in free agency, Dallas is poised once again to dominate via the ground game like they did back in 2014 when they finished the season with a 12-4 record. That’s good news for Traylor, who is a gifted run blocker.
Although Witten is the unquestionable starter, the roster spots behind him are a little more blurry. His back-up will likely be Hanna, who signed a three-year, $8.25 million deal in March. But Escobar is still recovering from an Achilles injury that will likely force the former second round pick to start this season on the PUP list.
That injury opens the door for Swaim and the two rookies, Gathers and Traylor, to possibly make the Cowboys final roster at the tight end position. And if Dallas opts not to carry a fullback on the squad in 2016, that could mean the Cowboys might keep as many as four tight ends on their active roster.
As Gathers is a sixth round pick with tremendous upside, I’d expect Dallas to keep the rookie on their active roster rather than placing him on the practice squad and taking the risk that he’d be picked up by another team looking to groom the next Antonio Gates.
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That leaves Swaim and Traylor battling it out for that possible final roster spot. If the latter can prove to be a better blocker, he may fit into the Cowboys offensive plans much better than yet another pass catching tight end. It’s just another awesome training camp battle we’ll have to look forward to come July.