IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.
This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.
Best-case: He catches 30-35 passes
Jason Witten simply doesn't come off the field. He's too valuable to come off the field. He can set the edge in the running game. He can pick up critical first downs, and last year he was finally used in the red zone. Expecting Escobar to have a big-time season is folly. If he can average 2-3 catches a game, become a mismatch in the red zone and stretch the middle of the field, then the Cowboys will have a viable weapon. Maybe he never should have been taken in the second round, but the Cowboys have to make it work. Escobar has to show early in the summer that he can be counted on. Tony Romo has to be able to trust him. He made some flash plays in little playing time as a rookie. The Cowboys will have the chance to have a rotation with their slot players. In some respects, Escobar is a tight end in a wide receiver's role. Along with Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and perhaps Devin Street, the Cowboys can attack in different ways. Plus, Escobar's blocking is less of an issue. He can be a get-in-the-way blocker as opposed to a knock-the-guy-down blocker. With the weapons the Cowboys have on offense, 30-35 catches would mean the unit has clicked quite well in 2014.
Worst-case: The coaches don't trust him
As a rookie, Martellus Bennett scored four touchdowns and did not catch one in the next three seasons. His best year came in 2010 when he caught 33 passes. He has since gone on to bigger and better things with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. With Witten, Escobar will never play a ton of snaps but that doesn't mean he can't play an effective role. He showed last year, even with just nine catches, he can stretch the seams. He has good hands, too. But the Cowboys can't expect him to become an in-line blocker to the point where he spells Witten. It's not the way he is built. If the coaches insist on making him a complete tight end, then the team has wasted another second-round pick. The Cowboys would be better served to find more of a blocking tight end during camp than to put Escobar, who has added a little bit of bulk to his frame, on the line most of the time. This is where the creativity of new playcaller Scott Linehan will have to come into play. The Cowboys were unable to unlock the 12 personnel group the way they wanted with Bennett in part because of their lack of creativity and Bennett's poor play. They need to understand what Escobar is and use his traits to the fullest.