Excess talent at TE will force the Cowboys into tough decisions
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie minicamps are underway as an influx of 257 drafted rookies gathers along with another few hundred undrafted free agents to begin their quests to make an NFL roster.

Some rookies can look absolutely terrible on the practice field, but their draft status gives them immunity from anything other than media criticism.

Others like late-round picks and undrafted free agents can have an incredible minicamp but still not make a roster over higher draft picks or established veterans.

This happens every year across the NFL, and one of the intricacies of managing a roster is deciphering whether or not a young player will make it back to the practice squad after being released.

Last season, the Cowboys got cute with undrafted free agent LB Isaiah Land.

Land showed flashes of sideline-to-sideline ability during minicamps, but was released in favor of an established veteran on the .

The Indianapolis Colts scooped him up off of waivers and the Cowboys lost a player at a position they would soon wish they had more depth.

Today begins a series of choosing position groups on the roster where the Cowboys' brass will have tough decisions to make at roster cutdown time.

We start with the tight ends, and there definitely be some heated conversations in the Cowboys' facility when the time comes to make roster cuts.

Locks to Make the Team

This section is reserved for players on the depth chart who are all but guaranteed a spot on the Week 1 roster.

Jake Ferguson

The third-year is poised to make an even bigger leap than his sophomore season.

Jake Ferguson, without Dalton Schultz ahead of him on the depth chart improved greatly in all aspects of his game.

Fergie exploded onto the scene after a quiet rookie season of 19 receptions on 22 targets for 174 yards and two touchdown receptions.

His first year as the unchallenged TE1 saw Ferguson haul in 71 receptions on 102 targets for 761 yards and five touchdowns.

Year three for Ferguson should be even more explosive as he continues to hone his craft and develop as a player.

He has no challengers for the top tight end spot on the roster. No, not even from a 2nd round pick in 2023.

Luke Schoonmaker

That 2nd-round pick is Michigan's Luke Schoonmaker, taken with the 58th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The selection of the former Wolverine was much maligned by Cowboys Nation, who felt there were more pressing needs than a run-blocking tight end.

Cowboys fans concerns were actually validated when Schoonmaker failed to make an impact expected from a top 60 pick in the draft.

He improved down the stretch but his impact to the offense was minimal, posting just eight receptions for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions.

That stat line is a normal game for Ferguson, and normally if the TE2 put up those paltry numbers over the course of the season, he likely wouldn't be the TE2 the following year.

However, Schoonmaker's high draft price tag cements his place on the depth chart.

At Risk

This section is reserved for players on the depth chart who were on the active roster last season but now have serious competition for a roster spot.

Peyton Hendershot

Peyton Hendershot was an undrafted free agent from Indiana who flashed enough receiving talent for the Cowboys to make the active roster.

Hendershot is primarily used for his receiving skills, not blocking, but a penchant for drops lessened his playing time.

He appeared in just eight games in 2023 after playing in every game in 2022, instead ceding snaps to the aforementioned Schoonmaker.

There are a pair of players who can unseat Hendershot as the roster's pure receiving tight end, and if Sean McKeon were still on the roster, his spot as a blocker would be in jeopardy as well.

Dark Horses

This section is reserved for players on the depth chart who can push to take the roster spot of the players in the At Risk section of this article.

John Stephens Jr.

John Stephens Jr. was having himself quite a preseason last year before unfortunately tearing his ACL before the final roster cuts.

He was placed on Injured Reserve, ending what was starting to look like a Cinderella path to the roster.

Stephens' size (6'5″ 232lbs) and history of playing in college make him an intriguing prospect to push Hendershot as the team's receiving tight end behind Ferguson.

Princeton Fant

Princeton Fant is another prospect at tight end who could sneak onto the roster with a strong camp.

Fant's size (6'1″ 238lbs) and traits project to the NFL as more of an H-back or a fullback with receiving ability.

He's not above average as a blocker or a receiver, but he showed promise as a developmental prospect.

Could 2024 be the year he puts it all together?

Brevyn Spann-Ford

The most interesting prospect of the undrafted free agents acquired is TE Brevin Spann-Ford, signed from the University of Minnesota.

Spann-Ford is a monster of a human being, standing at nearly 6'7″ tall an weighing in at 260lbs.

He is a willing blocker who dallascowboys.com journalist Nick Harris had ranked as the 2nd-best blocking tight end in the entire draft class.

His size allows him to gain leverage at the point of attack and get to the second level with ease, but he seems to struggle blocking in space.

Spann-Ford's receiving ability also leaves more to be desired. He had too many drops in college, something that can be coached in the NFL.

He also won't be beating anyone with his speed, clocking in at the combine with a 4.77 40-yard dash.

Whether or not the Cowboys decide to carry three or four tight ends could be the deciding factor on him making the team.

This article first appeared on Inside The Star and was syndicated with permission.

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