With the Dallas Cowboys switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense, there was a thought that the Cowboys would use the draft to find players for new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin Tampa 2 scheme as well as upgrade the offensive line.
But through the first two days of the draft, the Cowboys’ focus has been decidedly offense oriented and friendly to overworked quarterback Tony Romo.
The Cowboys finally filled a huge need by drafting Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox with their last pick of the third round, 80th overall.
But that was before they surprisingly selected San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar in the second round, 47th overall, and Baylor receiver Terrance Williams with their first pick in the third round, 74th overall.
And this was after they took Wisconsin center/guard Travis Frederick with the 31st pick of the first round on Thursday, making upgrading the offense and giving Romo help and more players the primary focus of the draft so far.
Owner Jerry Jones even brought Romo, who signed a five-year, $108 million contract extension last month, to the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters earlier in the day to go over the possibility of drafting Escobar and Williams and what it would mean for the offense.
“We were looking at ways to give Romo’s talents a better shot,” Jones said. “I’m unabashed about that. That was our emphasis.”
The Cowboys took Escobar despite already having 10-year veteran and seven-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten on the roster. Witten is coming off a season in which he set an NFL record for receptions by a tight end with 110 catches for 1,039 yards
It was even more puzzling given that Escobar (6-foot-6, 254) is primarily a pass catcher and not yet an accomplished run blocker.
Clearly, the Cowboys have a plan for Escobar, who was productive in college, catching 122 passes for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns in three years at San Diego State.
He has the size to be a good red-zone target and could signal a change in how the Cowboys run their offense.
Add in James Hanna, a sixth-round pick last year from Oklahoma, and the Cowboys have three pass-catching tight ends and will alter their offense to get the most out of the position, similar to the New England Patriots, Jones said. Not only will they use two-tight-end, one-back sets but they would also use three-tight-end, one-receiver sets.
“It’s going to be big and dramatic as to what we are as to what we could have been” Jones said.
“By taking him, are we going to be different? Does this add a dimension that we haven’t been doing before? The answer is yes.”
The Cowboys had similar plans when they took Martellus Bennett in the second round in 2008. But he never found his niche behind or alongside Witten before leaving as a free agent in 2012.
Jones said he talked to everyone in the draft room before they made the pick about making a concerted effort to get the most out of Escobar.
Coach Jason Garrett said he has used a number of different personal groups in the past and would do what was necessary to get Escobar on the field.
“I say ‘who is the best 11’ and ‘get that group out there,’” Garrett said. “You want to get these guys in favorable situations. We feel good about Witten. He is one of the best ever. [Escobar] is tall and lean. He can play in space similar to Witten. He can grow into an on-the-line blocker.”
The Cowboys took Williams with the controversial pick they received from the San Francisco 49ers when they traded down in the first round from 18 to 31 to take Frederick.
There was a lot criticism that the Cowboys didn’t get good value from the 49ers and should have received a higher pick. Jones said the selection of Williams, whom they had rated as a high second-rounder, ends all concerns. Williams and Frederick were worth more than anyone they would have taken if they stayed at 18.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Williams gives the Cowboys another big-play threat to go with Dez Bryant. The Dallas native caught 97 passes for a nation-leading 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior last season. He had 34 catches of at least 20 yards and 16 that went at least 30.
Williams, who called it “a dream come true” and “the best night of his life” to get drafted by his hometown team, gives the Cowboys insurance in case Miles Austin continues to be limited by injuries. It also gives them added flexibility, as Austin can be used in the slot with the Williams and Bryant on the outside.