IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys have taken five tight ends since franchise receptions leader Jason Witten went in the third round a decade ago.
None was drafted higher than San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar on Friday night.
The Cowboys took Escobar with the 47th overall pick in the second round — 22 spots higher than Witten went in 2003 and earlier than second-rounders Anthony Fasano in 2006 and Martellus Bennett in 2008.
With Witten entering his 11th season, Dallas may finally be thinking about his heir apparent.
“I’m always striving to be a complete tight end like Jason Witten,” said Escobar, the highest choice at tight end for Dallas since David LaFleur was the 22nd pick in the first round in 1997. “And if I’m able to take over his role once he’s gone, that would be amazing.”
The Cowboys had two picks in the third round after trading down on the opening night of the draft and getting Wisconsin center Travis Frederick with the second-to-last pick of the first round. The extra third-round pick — 74th overall — came in the deal with San Francisco. The Cowboys also had the 80th selection.
Witten became the first Dallas pass catcher with 800 career receptions last year. He’s third on the NFL career list with 806 catches for 8,948 yards, trailing Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe in both categories.
Escobar fits the Witten mold in that he’s a receiver first, which means blocking tops the list of areas where he needs to improve. He had 122 catches for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons with the Aztecs. His best year was 2011, when he career highs of 51 receptions, 780 yards and seven scores.
“Right now, I’m trying to just work on getting bigger and working on the run game more,” he said. “That’s one thing I need to excel on to be a complete tight end, a three-down tight end.”
Based purely on draft status, Escobar would seem likely to replace James Hanna as Witten’s backup. Hanna, a sixth-round pick last year, was drawing praise from coaches late last season. He was the third tight end behind Witten and John Phillips, a sixth-round pick in 2009 who signed with San Diego as a free agent.