With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group in a 10-part series, continuing Thursday with the tight end position.
Top of the chart:Jason Witten
It's slightly amusing how much speculation surrounds the tight end position this offseason, considering who the Cowboys have on top of the depth chart. Jason Witten is the greatest tight end in franchise history, even if he were to retire today. And he just keeps on chugging.
The drafting of Gavin Escobar marks the third time the Cowboys have tried to partner Witten with another playmaking tight end. The first two, Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett, washed out. Meanwhile, Witten keeps going. It looked like a lacerated spleen had finally hampered his prolific production last year, but he rebounded to post an NFL-record 110 catches by a tight end, not to mention 1,039 yards – the second highest yardage total of his career.
It remains to be seen how the much-discussed 12 personnel, which will implement two tight ends on a regular basis, will affect Witten's numbers. There's also the fact that he's competing for touches in playmakers in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. But there's no doubt Witten continues to be a vital cog in the Cowboys' offense and the tight end to beat in the near future.
Need to see more:James Hanna
The Cowboys' sixth-round pick in 2012 gave fans something to be intrigued, if not excited, about toward the tail end of 2012. Hanna didn't exactly emerge as an electric playmaker, but seven of his eight receptions and 76 of his 86 total yards came in the final month of the season.
That small spurt of offense wasn't enough to keep the Cowboys from addressing the tight end position in this year's draft. After being selected 47th overall in April, expectations will be on Escobar to stand out as the second-string tight end behind Witten.
Don't rule Hanna out, though, as he showed plenty of capability in OTAs and minicamp – in most instances he ran second behind Witten. But the reality is that the rookie Escobar is a larger investment than Hanna, who is only costing the Cowboys about $500,000 per year. The former Oklahoma Sooner would do well to impress in training camp and the preseason.
Still need to know …Rookie Progression
Escobar was the third tight end taken in the draft. He is considered mainly a pass-catching threat, rather than a blocker, after tallying 1,646 total yards and 17 touchdowns during three years as a contributor at San Diego State.
Witten has proven for years that a tight end can be successful in this offense, especially with Tony Romo coming to rely on the veteran for big plays. But, as mentioned earlier in this article, Fasano and Bennett were both drafted high in the hopes of creating a two-headed monster at tight end.
It hasn't worked to this point.
Escobar will be given ample time to prove his worth, but simply put, we won't know what that is until we see it. His hands have looked as good as advertised through 12 offseason practices, but the competition begins again when the Cowboys put on pads later this month.
Don't Forget About…Versatile Veteran
Dante Rosario is going to be listed on the roster with the rest of the Cowboys' tight ends, but he's going to get his chance at several different roles on offense. Rosario's college and limited pro experience as a fullback should pay dividends in his efforts to make this roster, especially with Lawrence Vickers limited by offseason surgery.
Rosario also has extensive experience as a special teamer, where he has made 27 total tackles in his six season in the NFL. [embedded_ad]
Then there is his obvious ability as a tight end. Rosario's production as a receiver has dropped off drastically, but he is easily Dallas' second-most experienced tight end behind Witten. He has accumulated 1,106 total yards and eight touchdowns during his time on three different rosters. He only managed 95 yards in 2012 with San Diego, but it's worth noting he did grab three touchdowns. With so many pass-catching tight ends on the roster, Rosario's experience as a blocker gives him an advantage and a legitimate shot to make some noise.