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What do the Kansas City Chiefs have in TE Gavin Escobar?

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In what is becoming an annual tradition I thought I’d take a look at a veteran free agent signing by the Chiefs that I have hope for but are maybe not likely to have a big impact on the upcoming season. For previous versions see Paul Fanaika and Ben Grubbs and Jonathan Massaquoi. Maybe this time will be different.

Escobar’s acquisition was talked about quite a bit at the time, but mostly because of a very slow news day and uneventful free agency period for the Chiefs. It’s been largely forgotten and overlooked as we all focused on the NFL draft. A couple of draft developments may prompt a closer look at this new Chief.

First, when several very good TE prospects were sitting on the board (Jake Butt, George Kittle, Jordan Leggett, Jeremy Sprinkle) the Chiefs traded up to get a WR, Jehu Chesson.

Then the Chiefs traded James O’Shaughnessy to the Patriots for a move up into the fifth round of the 2017 draft, indicating that Shags wasn’t going to make the roster. The Chiefs didn’t address the TE position at all in the draft, and it was a very good class. Perhaps they have more depth on the roster than we thought.

Which brings us back to new Chiefs tight end, Gavin Escobar. In the 2012 Draft, Escobar was an intriguing receiving option coming out of San Diego State as a former basketball player with great hands. The Cowboys took him in the second round as a potential understudy for Jason Witten. The scouting reports on Escobar say that he has tremendous hands, good athleticism, and good straight line speed. He was a top performer in the 3 cone, 20 and 60 yd shuttle drills, and ran a 4.84 second 40 yard dash. His size at 6’6, 254 lbs looks good on paper, along with 33 5/8” arms, and 9 3/4” hands. So, yeah, he fits the athletic profile you’d want in a TE.

Needless to say, his career has been a disappointment thus far. His career receiving stats don’t add up to one stellar season: 30 catches, 333 yards. The trend isn’t good either, Escobar “peaked” in 2013, and his receiving stats have generally declined each year since then. That said, there are some promising signs that Escobar could turn things around.

  • He’s been reasonably durable, only missing two games with an Achilles tear at the end of 2015. But, he was never really featured in the Cowboy’s offense.
  • The few times he was targeted, he scored touchdowns at a very good rate: 8 of his 30 (26.7%) career catches went for scores.
  • His best game ever was in 2014 when he scored twice and totaled 65 yards.
  • In his fifth year, Escobar is still only 26 years old, so there’s a chance he gets better IF given the opportunity.
  • Gavin was mentioned on the NFL Network as a bargain free agent that could help a team.
  • Escobar has reportedly become a good special teams player, which of course helps his chances of making the Chiefs roster.
  • I found this film review to be helpful, showing that he has been working on his blocking.

My notes

I went back and watched some of his college games via

  • He’ll engage as a blocker, but doesn’t sustain the block long enough
  • Doesn’t have the power to win against bigger defenders
  • Has fantastic hands, and quick routes
  • The announcer at one point said “go-go gadget arms” in regards to Escobar when he made a catch on the sidelines, showing off a big catch radius and soft hands.
  • Looked great on a TE screens (so Andy Reid should love him)
  • Noted out routes and wheel routes in his game
  • He’s a great end zone target, a magnet for the football and a QB’s best friend
  • Not the fastest TE I’ve seen, but he gets enough separation

For comparison, I watched a couple of random games as a Cowboy:

  • Didn’t get a ton of snaps, often appeared to be the third TE
  • Saw one bad drop on a crosser in traffic, looked like he heard footsteps
  • Had a good backside run block on Osi Umenyiora one-on-one
  • Another good run block on a safety, form looks good - hands inside, good leverage, feet under him
  • Scored on a post pattern, ran right away from coverage
  • Another TD on a seam route between two defenders, great route with a little head fake, scored on a nice catch, got hit, popped right back up
  • I like how he fought through two defenders and completed his route, made the catch and kept his feet in bounds here.
  • Showed he can sit down in the soft part of a zone defense to move the chains
  • In pass protection and run blocking, he shows willingness and technique to be at least an adequate blocker

The bottom line

He can most certainly contribute as a receiver, and I think his blocking has come a long way in his brief NFL career. He could help on special teams. My only questions are:

Can he force the Chiefs to:

1) keep him on the roster?

2) give him playing time?

3) carve out a significant role in the offense?

He couldn’t do that in Dallas, so it leads us to wonder why not? Most people refer to the fact that Jason Witten commands all the attention for TEs in that offense. That may be true, but there’s also a certain TE in Kansas City that is a focal point of the offense. Besides, there SHOULD be room for a second tight end to see the field and make some impact. From what I could see, Escobar can do everything you’d want from a TE, but just hasn’t consistently done so in an impactful way. But, he’s young and talented, so perhaps the change of scenery will do him some good?

Escobar will be one to watch in camp and early in the season, especially if Demetrius Harris misses time. He has to give the Chiefs a reason to get him more involved than he has been thus far in his career. Then, he needs to make plays in the passing game, blocking and on special teams. I wouldn’t count on it, but perhaps the Chiefs are.

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