Prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, my top breakout candidate was set to be tight end James Hanna. I think so much of Hanna—a 6-4, 252-pound tight end with 4.49 speed—that I gave him a second-round re-grade. So I was pretty shocked when the Cowboys selected Gavin Escobar in the second round. Escobar is two inches taller than Hanna and height is correlated with success for tight ends, but Escobar also ran a 4.84 and his arms aren’t even a half-inch longer than Hanna’s.
To say that I find Hanna to be a superior prospect to Escobar would be an understatement. I think Hanna has legitimate No. 1 tight end potential. But it doesn’t really matter if he falls behind Escobar on the depth chart; the No. 3 tight end simply won’t see the opportunities to make much of an impact in 2013. Last year, Hanna worked primarily in that role and saw just 11 targets. He caught eight of them for 86 yards.
So when projecting Hanna in 2013, we really have a wide range of potential outcomes. If he’s the No. 3 tight end, he’ll be lucky to crack 10 receptions. If he works primarily as the second option, it’s a totally different ballgame. And of course the Cowboys could use a bit of a rotation with Hanna and Escobar, bringing each player in for specific situations. That would be my preferred course of action, with Hanna helping to move the ball up the field and Escobar playing snaps inside the red zone.
In any event, I’m going to project Hanna as if he’ll play the majority of his snaps as the No. 2 tight end. The initial math will basically be the same as that for Escobar; Hanna would see around 40 targets as the second option, hauling in close to 30 of them. However, I think Hanna’s speed means he’ll be slightly more efficient than Escobar might be with those opportunities, averaging 15.0 YPR. That would give Hanna 450 receiving yards on the year.
Hanna probably won’t be as effective as Escobar in the red zone. That’s because 1) he isn’t as long and 2) even if he’s the No. 2 tight end, he could lose targets to Escobar in the red zone. That means Hanna’s unlikely to score more than a pair of touchdowns on the season.
Final 2013 Projection (assuming No. 2 tight end duties): 30 receptions, 450 yards, 2 TD
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.