It’s the end of the Dalton Schultz era in Dallas, but the scepter being passed to Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot doesn’t mean the Cowboys can ignore a robust 2023 draft class
FRISCO, Texas — Dalton Schultz packed his bags and took I-45 South to South Texas this offseason, signing with the Houston Texans on a one-year deal after the Dallas Cowboys had all but decided the next evolution of tight end was ready to be unleashed in 2023 and beyond.
That involves Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot getting the nod in their second year, and no one can argue with the excitement revolving around what might be to come from “Frick and Frack”, as head coach Mike McCarthy lovingly refers to the 2022 rookie standouts turned best friends.
Does that mean the Cowboys are out on grabbing an impact TE in this year’s draft, though? Absolutely not and, below, you’ll see where things stand on that front.
With so much TE talent to choose from on each/andy day of the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s a conversation to have.
Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot —
With the exit of Schultz arrives the knighting of Ferguson and Hendershot as next up for the Cowboys, two high-ceiling talents that wasted no time whatsoever making their presence felt at the NFL level; and the fact Dallas was able to steal away Hendershot in undrafted free agency (and away from the Chiefs, no less, per the young tight end), was unadulterated finesse. The two complement each other on the field in a way that promises electric plays weekly, and their chemistry off of the field is literally one the Cowboys haven’t seen in the tight end room — probably ever.
Sean McKeon, Seth Green —
This is a duo I dub as “The Developmentals”, seeing as McKeon is the only one in the bunch who’s shown himself to be an option for in-game production to this point. That makes sense though, considering he’s been in Dallas the longest (undrafted in 2020). Green was a 2022 addition whom the Cowboys see as possible depth going forward, but it’s fair to say none in this duo should or will stop the team from grabbing an impact tight end in this year’s draft to tandem with Ferguson and Hendershot.
Top 2023 Prospects:
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame —
Go ahead and pencil in Mayer as arguably the most refined tight end in the 2023 class, but that doesn’t instantly mean he’ll be out of range for the Cowboys. I sincerely doubt there will be a run on tight ends in the top 20 picks, and that means there’s a chance Mayer will fall to the bottom half of the first round (post-16th). There’s nothing Mayer truly does bad, either. Some label him the best blocker in this year’s class but he is also a nuclear weapon in the passing game, from route-running to catch radius to how he inhales receptions, he’s a TE1 right out of the package.
Dalton Kincaid, Utah —
Assuming there is, in fact, no unexpected run on tight ends before the Cowboys go on the clock at No. 26, they’ll have their pick of the litter if they want to attack this position with a premium pick, and Kincaid should be one in the pack waiting for their decision. The former Ute is as decorated with individual honors as he is with statistics, operating as basically a large receiver who happens to play tight end, and racking up receptions and TDs in the process. The biggest knock to Kincaid is that he struggles in both pass and run blocking, making him less of a fit for what the Cowboys want to do offensively, and when looking at the top two archetypes on the roster currently.
Darnell Washington, Georgia —
You know who doesn’t struggle at blocking? That alien specimen hailing from Athens, that’s who. Washington is a mauler at the line of scrimmage, effortlessly tossing defensive ends and linebackers as if they’re lint on his shirt. He’d be the perfect complement to what Ferguson and Hendershot bring to the table in that regard, but don’t go labeling him as nothing more than an offensive lineman positioned at tight end. Yes, he’s physically imposing at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, but he gets that mass moving downfield with speed — blazing the NFL Combine with a 4.64s 40-yard dash and when his number is called to make a play downfield, smaller DBs don’t stand a chance at stopping his point of attack on an incoming pass (this makes him unstoppable in the red zone). He’s an Official 30 visit in Dallas for a reason.
Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State —
While you won’t ever confuse Kraft with Mayer or Washington as a blocker, he can more than hold his own, though mostly in space and not necessarily as an in-line body. Still, he’s one of the better overall blockers in the class and he adds the ability to be a viable target in the passing game as well. Kraft is easily identified as athletic, seeing how often he’s able to turn a not-great throw into an impressive catch with dexterity and soft hands, and this adds to his length to make him a lethal weapon in the red zone. You have to like the ceiling on Kraft, though he’ll need to get more refined in his route-running at the next level, mostly in his breaks.
Luke Musgrave, Oregon State —
It feels like Musgrave enters the mix as a prototypical TE build, and that’s not a bad thing whatsoever. He knows how to release from the line of scrimmage to get into his route tree quickly and his route-running often bests what linebackers or nickel corners can offer up in defense. Also, if you love YAC, and I know you do, Musgrave works hard to deliver after the reception to help move the chains. His biggest opportunity for improvement, however, is in his blocking, where he leaves … much … to be desired. I don’t doubt Musgrave will be the right call for an NFL team at the end of April, but I struggle to find his fit in the Cowboys scheme and their current tight end room; also lacking the production to solidify the argument on his potential (just 20 games in four seasons).
Honorable mention: Sam LaPorta, Iowa