Cowboys Approach to Tight End Sheds Light on Offense Under Mike McCarthy

Cowboys Approach to Tight End – The Dallas Cowboys changed their coaching staff in the NFL update today. Kellen Moore’s departure as the offensive coordinator led to the promotion of Brian Schottenheimer to take over the role. Additionally, head coach Mike McCarthy will now handle play-calling duties. However, the lack of detailed information about these alterations is no surprise to those familiar with McCarthy’s management style.

There are hints out there, though. Both McCarthy and Schottenheimer have been around the league long enough to have developed some clear trends in how they run an offense, and the Cowboys’ offseason moves have also offered some clarity. McCarthy has insisted that it isn’t a drastic change but more of a tweak to the existing system and even confirmed that the language of the offense remains the same.

The Potential Change in Tight End Usage

McCarthy’s offenses in Green Bay favored a specific type of tight end. That player profile is becoming more popular in the NFL as offenses adapt to more middle-of-the-field attacks as a response to the rising popularity of the split safety defense. So when the smoke started billowing around Dallas, taking a tight end in the first round, it seemed the Cowboys were ready to tweak how they use that position.

Cowboys Approach to Tight EndNo Fire Behind the Smoke

It turned out there wasn’t any fire behind that smoke. The Bills traded up to snag Dalton Kincaid, and Dallas passed on Michael Mayer with their first-round pick. They spent their second-round choice on Luke Schoonmaker, the tight end out of Michigan with a limited production after a run on the position happened early in the second round.

While Schoonmaker’s election confirmed that the team was, in fact, interested in bolstering its tight-end position, it also offered a glimpse into what the team plans to do with the situation moving forward.

Different Styles of Tight End

Kincaid, and to a lesser extent Mayer, were players in the mold of what the modern-day tight end is becoming. Like Travis Kelce or Kyle Pitts, they are receiving threats first and foremost who can line up in various alignments but also hold their own when asked, on occasion, to work as a blocker. This tight-end class was filled with guys like that, including Luke Musgrave, Sam LaPorta, Tucker Kraft, and Will Mallory.

Schoonmaker, however, is not of that mold. Granted, Schoonmaker’s limited role in college – just one season with 20+ catches – makes it challenging to project his ceiling fully, but Schoonmaker isn’t a receiver in a tight end’s body. He has a very traditional play style for a tight end and is equally adept at blocking and operating as a short-route target in the passing game. Schoonmaker’s elite athleticism – he posted the third-best Relative Athletic Score among this year’s tight end class – gives him valuable upside, but he’s a different style of tight end from the other names at the top of his class.

The Resemblance to Jake Ferguson

That’s what’s so telling about the Cowboys taking him in the second round. In many ways, Schoonmaker resembles Jake Ferguson. Their physical profiles are nearly identical – height, weight, length, you name it – and their play styles offer plenty of resemblances too. Both tight ends were blockers on over 62% of their offensive snaps their final year in college, with over two-thirds of their targets coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

The most significant difference is their athletic profiles: Schoonmaker is a significantly better athlete, so he was drafted in the second round, while Ferguson waited until the fourth. But they look and play the same, more or less.

Expanding the Playbook with 12 Personnel Emphasis

This offers a clue that the Cowboys’ usage of tight ends will remain largely the same from last year to this year, with an emphasis on 12 personnel putting both players on the field simultaneously. The Cowboys have gradually increased their use of 12 personnel over the last few years, and the grouping accounted for 23% of their offensive plays in 2022.

However, the Cowboys primarily used 12 personnel as a run package on 62% of their 12 personnel plays. That number was much lower – 55% – in 2021. Some of that undoubtedly has to do with the nagging injuries that Dalton Schultz had in 2022 and the fact that Ferguson had nearly double the amount of snaps in 12 personnel as Schultz.

Ferguson started to show positive traits as a pass catcher later in the season – averaging 2.11 yards per route run and tallying nearly half of his yards after the catch for the year in his final five games – but it’s understandable why Dallas didn’t feature him too heavily towards the start of the season.
While Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer have kept details about their offensive approach under wraps, the Cowboys’ offseason moves regarding the tight end position provide some insight. The decision not to select a modern receiving-threat tight end in the draft and instead opt for a player like Luke Schoonmaker suggests that the team plans to maintain a similar tight-end usage as in previous years. This approach emphasizes 12 personnel and provides flexibility in play calling and assignments, expanding the offensive playbook under McCarthy’s leadership. Stay informed with the latest NFL team statistics.