(Editor's Note: The staff of DallasCowboys.com is currently previewing the depth chart at each position on the Cowboys' roster. The biggest remaining variable in determining that depth chart is the NFL draft, which begins April 28. This series will identify five potential draft picks who could affect the depth chart at each position.)
IRVING, Texas – It's startling how often the Cowboys turn to the NFL draft at the tight end position, considering how consistent their production has been at the position for the last decade.
Obviously, they employ Jason Witten, a certainty to join the Ring of Honor and a likely Hall of Famer, as their primary tight end. Even after 13 years at such a physical position, he continues to chug along at a Pro Bowl level.
Despite that, Dallas has drafted a tight end in seven of 12 years since Witten joined the roster. The trend has maintained recently, as James Hanna, Gavin Escobar and Geoff Swaim – the team's current three tight ends behind Witten – were all drafted in the past four years.
The decision to re-sign Hanna to a three-year deal, coupled with the drafting of Swaim just last year, makes tight end seem like an unlikely place to spend a pick this year. But if history is any indicator, that's no guarantee.
Starting at the top of the draft and going into the later rounds, here are five possible targets:
1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas –It says a lot about this year's tight end class that Henry is widely considered this draft's best prospect and is rated by most as a Day 2 pick. Henry seems to fall into the mold of a Gavin Escobar – which is to say, he's an accomplished and versatile receiver with great hands, but he'd need to work on his blocking. With Escobar on the mend from an Achilles tear, the Cowboys are lacking athleticism like Henry's.
2. Nick Vannett, Ohio State –Vannett played for the Cowboys' coaching staff at the Senior Bowl in January, which means they've got a better grasp on his abilities than most. He was good enough to start for Urban Meyer's loaded Ohio State team, though he was used much more as a blocker than a receiver in college.
3. Thomas Duarte, UCLA –The first thing that stands out about Duarte is his size – a mere 6-2, 231 pounds. Given that fact, it's hard to imagine him as the type of blocking tight end the Cowboys have coveted in recent years. Duarte is far more likely to earn his money in a receiver-type role, and his abilities as a receiver make him an interesting mid-round option.
4. Jerell Adams, South Carolina –Adams' college experience is reminiscent of Duarte, though his larger frame – 6-5, 247 pounds – gives cause for optimism that he can blossom into a much more effective blocker. Adams was underutilized in the Gamecocks' offense during his college career, but he's got the type of impressive athleticism that make him an enticing Day 3 pick.
5. Rico Gathers, Baylor –The word "raw" gets tossed around a lot during the draft cycle, but that doesn't begin to do justice to Rico Gathers. The 6-7, 271-pound prospect was an All-American forward for Baylor's basketball team, but he hasn't played football in nearly a decade. The fact that he's got next-to-no experience makes it hard to believe he'll get drafted, but his undeniable athleticism makes him an interesting prospect toward the tail end of the draft – not to mention undrafted free agency. Thanks to the success of former basketball players like Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates, NFL teams will always be enticed by the promise of untapped potential.