The Dallas Cowboys have seven picks in this week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which needs are more necessary to fill than others.
What they need: Witten signed a four-year extension this offseason and while he turns 35 in May, he is not slowing down. He finished second on the team in receptions and played in 96 percent of the snaps last season, which includes just 22 snaps in the season finale when he was pulled after a few series.
Hanna didn’t play last year because of a knee injury but the expectation is that he will be back this summer. When he is healthy, he's a quality No. 2 tight end because of his improved blocking. Swaim filled that role last year before suffering a pectoral injury and showed the same ability to be an in-line tight end.
Gathers is the wild card. A former basketball player at Baylor, he spent the season on the practice squad, which gave him time to develop. Jerry Jones is high on Gathers’ athleticism and growth.
Besides quarterback, the tight end needs to know more about the offense than any player. He has to be a run-blocker and a pass-blocker. He has to line up on the line, in the slot and out wide. The Cowboys rely on the tight ends to do a little of everything.
If they are to take a tight end, then it has to be an all-around type, not just a pass-catcher or not just a blocker.
Best fit: Jake Butt, Michigan. He suffered a torn ACL in the Wolverines’ bowl game but the Cowboys have a history of selecting players needing time to recover. You would like him to weigh more than 246 pounds but he has the chance to add bulk as he rehabs. The Cowboys want their tight ends to do everything and Butt is a willing blocker. He is a dependable pass-catcher, good route runner and what Jason Garrett calls the “right kind of guy.”
Late-round possibility: Michael Roberts Toledo. He is something of a project but there is a lot to work with. He is big (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) and he had his best season last year with 45 catches for 533 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Cowboys want in-line blockers and Roberts has that ability. He won’t run away from defenders but he can make difficult catches.
Feeling a draft: It’s easy to say because of Witten’s age that the Cowboys have to look for a successor. But the Cowboys don’t want to stop the progress of the younger tight ends, like Gathers, who was a sixth-round pick a year ago. Hanna (knee) and Swaim (pectoral, foot) are coming off surgeries so there is a possibility the Cowboys could select a tight end but not necessarily in the early rounds.