Star Evaluation: Could James Hanna Be Ready To Shed Blocking-TE Label?

While free agency officially begins in March, roster turnover isn't too far away. The Cowboys will indeed add and presumably release players, along with letting some go without a new contract.

However, the majority of the 2018 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

Today, we'll continue the series with tight end James Hanna.     

Views of #84 Tight End James Hanna from the 2017-18 Regular Season.

What's Been Good:

When he gets the ball – at least in 2017 – good things happened. Hanna only caught four passes, but averaged 22.0 yards a catch and all of them went for at least 13 yards. So for a "blocking-oriented" tight end, Hanna at least gets somewhat down the field when he gets the ball.      

What's Been Bad:

However, he's not getting the ball that often. Four catches during a season is definitely a small sample-size to say he can be a difference-maker. If anything, opposing defenses don't anticipate him getting the ball much at all, and have left him open at times when the Cowboys have gone to him. If it became more of a regular thing, he might not surprise teams as much. But to be fair to Hanna, his role has never been to be a primary pass-catcher, especially with Jason Witten always ahead of him.

2017 Highlight:

With the Cowboys trying to get back in the game against the Rams in Week 4, Hanna found himself wide open and Dak Prescott found him as well, connecting on a 28-yard touchdown. It was Hanna's first and only score of his career.

What's Next:

Hanna enters the final year of his second contract with the Cowboys. He's scheduled to count $3.5 million on the salary cap, with $2.75 million in base salary. Seemingly, if the Cowboys had better options at tight end, assuming they drafted a tight end in the early-to-mid rounds, they could part ways with Hanna, maybe in a trade and would still save money on the cap. Then again, Hanna has been a serviceable player on both offense and special teams and that cap charge isn't too outlandish for a player who can fill several needs. It's likely Hanna returns again in 2018 as one of Jason Witten's backups and maybe a player who showed last year he warrants more than four catches a season.  

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I have always respected James Hanna's game. For years he's been the stunt man for this club doing the jobs that others wouldn't attempt. His assignments were never limited to one specific area whether it's inline work or on the move. What has allowed him to have success has been his athletic ability coupled with his desire to finish as a blocker. He is technique sound and rarely in bad position. As a player, he is as reliable as they come when asked to secure his man. Where he doesn't get enough credit is as a receiver. Last season was the first where it appeared that the staff got him more involved. There were several snaps where his concentration level and hands were outstanding. In my opinion what has been holding him back was his knee. As good as he's been at times, his knee hasn't allowed him to reach his full potential. The training staff helped him in 2016 and we saw better things from him following that. For James Hanna's sake, let's hope that trend continues.

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