Cowboys bolster passing game

If people thought the Cowboys reached for a player to fill a specific need with their first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, their second selection appears to be a player they must have had at the top of their board of remaining players.

That's because San Diego State's Gavin Escobar is a tight end, which clearly is not a position of need with star Jason Witten and promising youngster James Hanna. Escobar measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-6 and weighed 254 pounds.

He's not blindingly fast (he ran a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash, but ran a 4.78 and 4.81 at San Diego State's Pro Day), but he's a very smooth runner who can get behind defensive backs who don't expect tight ends to run deep. He caught 122 passes in three seasons with the Aztecs, including 42 in 2012, averaging more than 11 yards per catch in each of his three seasons and scoring 17 career touchdowns.

NFL teams are looking constantly for the next big, athletic TE who can create headaches for defensive coordinators. Like Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez and San Diego's Antonio Gates, Escobar is a former basketball player who runs very well and has outstanding hands, adding to his prototype size with a 32-inch vertical jump and by extending his long arms and snatching the ball higher than most defenders can reach. He also has exceptional body control for a player of his size, allowing him to adjust to the ball in flight, even after he has left the ground.

Escobar will allow Dallas head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive coaches to cause major headaches for defenses, as they now have three big tight ends who can run and who can make catches on numerous different pass routes. Witten is a better (and still underrated) blocker than Hanna and Escobar, but the three of them could be deployed in packages that few teams can match.

What he's not is an elite blocker, which makes the pick a little curious. Garrett said after Thursday's first round was that one reason he was pleased with the team's first-round selection of Wisconsin center Travis Frederick was that the team had identified better blocking in order to improve the running game as a high priority.

That he didn't block more is not meant to suggest that he can't, or that he shies away from contact. On the contrary, he uses his big frame to his advantage, often bouncing off defenders after making the catch. Escobar has the physical tools to be an able blocker, but wasn't asked to do a lot of it at San Diego State because the Aztec coaches did so many things with him in the passing game.

Like Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz, San Diego State moved Escobar around, lining him up by the tackle in a classic tight end position, but also splitting him in to the slot and out wide to create mismatches for defenses, who had to choose between letting a linebacker cover him to match his strength, in which case he often ran right by them, or to put let a defensive back run with him and try to bring him down despite a significant size disadvantage. Escobar was the favorite target of SDSU quarterbacks Ryan Katz and Adam Dingwell: his 42 receptions, 543 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns all were team highs. In 2011, he was an even more prolific weapon for the Aztecs, hauling in 51 passes for 780 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

The first-team All-Mountain West Conference honoree was a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's premier college tight end.

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