With Dak Prescott set to return in 2021, its wheels up for the Dallas Cowboys’ pass offense. The team has a star running back in Ezekiel Elliott and three-star receivers in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. Often overlooked among all the options in Dallas is the tight end position, which features not one but two capable targets.
In 2019, while veteran Jason Witten was the lead dog, Blake Jarwin stepped up and showed promise. Heading into 2020, with Witten in Las Vegas with the Raiders, Jarwin seemed poised to break out. Instead, he was injured early in the season, and Dalton Schultz took over, posting some strong numbers. With both due to be back, the question is, which is the value in Dallas?
Jarwin joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and in his second year, in 2018, he started to show what he could do. In 2018, he saw 36 targets with Witten retired, grabbing 27 passes for 307 yards and three TDs. When Witten re-joined the team in 2019, Jarwin was the complimentary tight end, but it didn’t stop him from making an impact. He started seven games, seeing 41 targets and snagging 36 of them for 365 yards and three TDs. That was good enough for a TE28 finish.
With no roadblocks in 2020, things were looking up. Jarwin started the season as the top tight end, but it went off the rails quickly as he tore his ACL, missing the rest of the season. He saw just one target on the season, snagging it for a 12-yard reception. Now, he’s back healthy for 2021 and poised to pick up where he left off possibly. Those drafting are less bullish, as he’s currently sitting at an ADP of TE26.
Schultz was taken by the Cowboys in the Fourth Round of the 2018 draft. In his rookie seasons, helping fill the void for a retired Witten alongside Jarwin, Schultz saw just 17 targets, catching 12 of them for 116 yards. In 2019, with Witten back, Schultz had no real role. He saw only two targets all season, catching one pass for six yards. But when Jarwin was injured in 2020, Schultz was ready.
Last season, Schultz saw 89 targets, turning that into 63 receptions for 615 yards and four TDs. That was good enough to finish as TE11 on the season. Despite that finish and the target-rich environment in Dallas, Schultz is sitting at an ADP of TE30. Much like Jarwin, drafters aren’t sold he gets the volume and share concerns that the pair will split targets in 2021.
So, which tight end is the better grab? Some believe Jarwin will be the guy, but it’s hard to imagine Schultz gets ignored after posting a TE11 season that’s better than any season Jarwin has posted. There’s also the question of how much volume will be left for tight ends in the Dallas passing offense.
Last season, with Dak limited to just over four games, the team still threw 639 times. Of those passes, 346 targets went to the three receivers, while 71 targets went to Elliott. That left more than 220 targets for other receivers, including tight ends. In 2019, Prescott played all 16 games and threw 597 times. Of those, 315 targets went to Cooper, Gallup, and third receiver Randall Cobb, while Elliott saw 71 targets. That left 211 targets for other receivers, of which 124 went to Witten and Jarwin. Witten finished as TE11 that season.
With an additional regular-season game, it stands to reason Dallas will throw between 625 and 650 times. With 350 of those going to the primary receivers and between 70 and 75 going to Elliott, that still leaves more than 220 targets for other receivers. If 120 to 150 of those go to tight ends, it’s possible for Schultz and Jarwin to each have work. With that volume in 2019, the Cowboys produced a TE1 and a high-end TE3. I think it’s more likely in 2021, and we see two players in the TE2 range, likely with Jarwin finishing higher.
Given their ADP, if both end up in the 15 to 20 range, which seems possible, Jarwin and Schultz can return value. And if one ends up taking the lead, as Witten did in 2019, you could end up with a TE1 return at a TE3 price. If I’m betting on one, I still prefer Jarwin at his ADP with the likelihood he ends up the de facto starter in 2021.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus 2 Canton Network.