As we continue to track through the Cowboys draft needs ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, we take a look at the tight end position. With Geoff Swaim set to hit free agency, the Cowboys will return Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers, and likely turn to the draft to look for a suitable upgrade at the position if they do not address it in free agency. While Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz showed signs of development by the end of the 2018 season, the position could still use a more reliable, consistent option. Here are three tight ends the Cowboys could target with the 58th overall that could fill out their starting lineup in 2019.
Irv Smith Jr. – Alabama – 6’4” 241-lbs
While the odds of Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. making it all the way to 58 are probably not all that great, it’s not totally out of the question. With the lack of top end talent at wide receiver, the overall depth at EDGE and defensive tackle, and the amount of offensive lineman expected to go in the top 50, there’s still a chance that Smith Jr. could end up falling right into the Cowboys laps. And he’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the Cowboys offense.
Irv Smith Jr. is one of the most talented tight ends in this draft class (TE3 for me), due to his impressive blend of size, athleticism, and ability to block. At Alabama, Smith was used all over the formation for the Crimson Tide offense and was extremely successful in whatever role he was asked to play. While being one of the best route running tight ends in this class, Smith also is one of the better run blocking tight ends in this class as well. Something we rarely see from tight ends coming out of college.
Irv Smith Jr. is a guy that can make plays after the catch due to his athleticism, upper body strength, and quick feet. While he’s listed at 241-lbs, he moves more like a 220-lb running back with the football in his hands. With his route running, blocking ability, and consistent hands, the Cowboys would be thrilled to death to see Irv Smith Jr. still on the board when they are on the clock at 58, and may even want to consider trading up if he’s on the board in the late 40’s.
Isaac Nauta – Georgia – 6’4” 246-lbs
When watching tape on Georgia’s Isaac Nauta, you’ll leave the viewing saying one thing “that looks exactly like how the Cowboys used their TE’s in the Scott Linehan era”. Coming to Georgia as a five-star recruit, Nauta was severely underutilized in the Bulldogs offensive scheme, but would fit in perfectly with the Dallas Cowboys scheme due to his ability to both catch the football and serve as a dominant run blocker.
Similar to Irv Smith Jr., Isaac Nauta is the definition of a dual-threat tight end. He is a nasty blocker in the running game and plays with great hand placement at the point of attack to drive defenders out of running lanes. Along with his hand technique, Nauta plays with great power in his upper and lower half which allows him to move defensive ends with ease. He rarely gets knocked off balance in the blocking game, and consistently plays with great leverage blocking against bigger defensive lineman. While being one of the better blocking tight ends in the class, do not sleep on Nauta’s receiving abilities, though the stats may say otherwise.
Nauta has extremely reliable hands, and has shown the ability to make the contested grab and catch the football with ease up-and-away from his frame. One of Nauta’s best traits is his speed throughout the route stem which allows him to gain separation on defenders, along with being a savvy route runner. He is the tight end the Cowboys offense desperately needs to pair with Dak Prescott due to his abilities to be a reliable target in the short-intermediate portion of the field, but also stretch the seam when given the opportunity. While Isaac Nauta isn’t one of the sexier tight end names in this draft class, it wouldn’t surprise one bit if he ended up being one of the more successful tight ends in the 2019 draft class.
If there’s a tight end the Cowboys are probably already familiar with, it’s Texas A&M TE Jace Sternberger. After starting his career off at Kansas, Sternberger transferred from Kansas to Oklahoma A&M where he spent one year in JUCO before transfering to college station in 2018, and he did not disappoint in his only year with the Aggies.
While we talked about two tight ends above that could walk in and make Jason Garrett smile from ear-to-ear, Jace Sternberger is a bit of a different style of player than Isaac Nauta and Irv Smith Jr. Sternberger, listed at 6’4” 250-lbs, was used both in-line and in the slot at Texas A&M. While using his athletic ability and pure speed to get open more so than true route running ability, he got open with ease in all three levels of the field pretty consistently in his junior year at A&M. While he’s nowhere near in the same class as Smith Jr. and Nauta, Sternberger showed signs of being a decent blocker in his final year of college ball.
Where he will make his money at the next level is making plays after the catch and working the seam down the field. Sternberger uses his speed and athleticism in the open field to break tackles, and run past defenders attempting to bring him down. When catching the football down the field, he tracks the ball extremely well into the triangle and catches the ball with very soft hands, but can also pluck the ball out of the air with ease with balls away from his frame. There were many instances in 2018, where he hauled in extremely tough catches in the middle of the field with defenders closing in hard and fast. While Sternberger will likely need a bit more developing than the two listed above him, you could argue that he may have the highest ceiling out of the three guys we talked about today.
Next week we’ll take a look at three safeties the Cowboys could target with the 58th overall pick. Be sure to check back in as we go through these position groups for the Cowboys to target with the 58th overall pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.