It may be the least needed position on the team, but the Cowboys will consider tight ends, especially in the later rounds. Last year was a deep tight end crop and the Cowboys scouts agreed. Look at the long list on their war-room board:
1-23 Jermaine Grisham
2-38 Rob Gronkowski
3-69 Jimmy Graham
4-75 Ed Dickson
4-77 Clay Harbour
4-88 Tony Moeaki
5-107 Dennis Pitta
5-112 Garrett Graham
5-115 Brody Eldridge
6-119 Anthony McCoy
6-120 Michael Hoomanuwanui
7-130 Nate Byham
Notable omission — Aaron Hernandez
Roughly 10% of Dallas’ 2010 draft board was comprised of tight ends. 12 of the 130 names were TEs. There’s not much room at the inn, with Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett and John Phillips in house. As I’ve argued for years, the Cowboys use this position as the gateway to the fullback position.
When Daryl Johnston started showing signs of wear and tear in ’96, the Cowboys made two attempts to find a fullback replacement, drafting Nicky Sualau in the 4th round of ’97 and Jamar Martin in the 4th round of the ’02.
When Bill Parcells took over in ’03, he started stocking his roster with tight ends, looking not only for a lead dog but for a mean-blocking 2nd TE, the F-back, who could flex into the backfield and lead the running back through the hole on running plays:
’03 — Jason Witten, 3rd round
’04 — Sean Ryan, 5th round
’06 — Anthony Fasano, 2nd round
’08 — Martellus Bennett, 2nd round
’09 — John Phillips, 6th round
The Cowboys have known since ’03 that they had a find in Witten, yet they have continued to spray picks high and low at the TE spot. The repeated trips to the well show their general dissatisfaction with the F-back results. I heard from a source early in ’06 that Fasano’s lead blocking disappointed them. Recall that he was benched early in that campaign and the team converted free agent ILB Oliver Hoyte into the lead masher.
In that span, the Cowboys have invested just one pick in fullback, that being an ’07 6th-rounder on Deon Anderson.
Phillips returns this season and the team hopes he can pick up the level of play he displayed in late ’09 and in the ’10 preseason, where he looked like the ideal F-back. If they feel he’s healthy, the Cowboys may skip this position one more year. Martellus Bennett has to be getting restless backing up the Senator Jason Witten, and with the colleges turning out so many quality, receiving H-back types who can be picked in the middle rounds, guys like Tony Moeaki and Jimmy Graham, I wonder if the Cowboys won’t reach for Aquaman’s replacment sooner rather than later?
I think the answer is yes, but sooner in this case means 2012, not 2011. The team has too many other needs.