The Dallas Cowboys made a judgment call in the 2023 NFL Draft, replacing Dalton Schultz at tight end with second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker. Can Schoonmaker adequately fill the void left by Schultz’s departure and maybe even become an upgrade?
Dallas Cowboys Lose an Established Receiving Threat in Dalton Schultz
The Cowboys were visibly willing to let Schultz go in free agency, but the loss of one of Dallas’ top targets over the middle of the field will be felt — at least initially.
Schultz arrived in Dallas as an unheralded fourth-round pick and spent his first two seasons as a depth TE. But in 2020, he broke out as a true chain-mover for the Cowboys’ offense, amassing 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns.
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In 2021, Schultz expanded on his numbers, having one of the best seasons at his position, with 78 catches, 808 yards, and eight touchdowns. And he followed up that career-best campaign with a respectable line of 57 catches, 577 yards, and five scores in 2022.
Schultz gave the Cowboys plenty of value, especially considering his initial capital. But now, Schultz is off to the Houston Texans, and the Cowboys have a new player in line to replace him: Former Michigan Wolverines TE Luke Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker came at a slightly higher price as a Round 2 pick, but can he make up for that with a higher ceiling?
Is Luke Schoonmaker an Upgrade Over Dalton Schultz?
To put it simply, no — at least not right out of the gate. Schultz wasn’t a game-changer for Dallas, but he was a productive and reliable receiving threat at multiple levels of the field. It might take Schoonmaker a year before he gets to the level that Schultz was at in 2021 and 2022.
For Schoonmaker, the clock is ticking as well. He’ll be a 25-year-old rookie this season. He’s already older than Schultz was when the Stanford product had his Year 3 breakout. Schoonmaker isn’t an upgrade yet — especially not in the receiving game. But a more valuable statement would be this: Schoonmaker has some similarities to Schultz as a prospect, and he could follow a similar developmental curve at a quicker pace.
Schultz was not known for his receiving ability coming out of college. He was only a marginal producer at Stanford, who never topped 222 receiving yards or three touchdowns in a given season. For Schultz, much of the appeal came from his established blocking ability, and his untapped athletic potential. At 6’5″, 244 pounds, his 10′ broad jump and 7-second three-cone alluded to receiving upside.
In a broad sense, Schoonmaker has similar characteristics. He was best known for his blocking ability at Michigan, and while his production climbed drastically in 2022 (35 catches for 418 yards and three TDs), he was never known as an elite pass-catching threat.
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Schoonmaker was often a blocker first at Michigan, and he was a versatile one — blocking in-line, leading plays in motion. He’s very good there, but he also has untapped receiving upside in his athletic profile. Schoonmaker might actually be a better athlete than Schultz, in fact. He’s 6’5″, 251 pounds, with longer arms, and he logged a 4.63 40-yard dash, a strong 4.27 shuttle time, and a 10’7″ broad jump in the 95th percentile.
Schoonmaker’s smooth, explosive athleticism serves him well as a blocker, but it also brings visible upside for him in the receiving phase. He’s shown he can accelerate through breaks and stems with fluid hips and curvilinear acceleration, and he also has the zone awareness to enter space on quick outs and other short concepts.
Schultz has a more expansive route tree to all levels of the field at this point, which is to be expected. He’s also more authoritative as a catcher beyond his frame. While Schoonmaker has longer arms, he’s still learning how to use his wingspan effectively at the catch point.
Nevertheless, many of the principles that applied to Schultz as a prospect also apply to Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker is incredibly athletic and well-sized. He brings a high-level floor as a blocker and a projectable developmental path as a receiving threat.
And unlike Schultz, Schoonmaker actually showed statistical progression as a receiver in his final collegiate season. That’s a good sign that maybe he won’t quite need two years to gear up as Schultz did. If Schoonmaker can start to enter his prime at 26 years old, the Cowboys could soon get comparable production from their 2023 second-round pick.
What Should Expectations Be for Luke Schoonmaker in 2023?
The odds are relatively slim that Schoonmaker will take on Schultz’s volume as a receiving weapon right out of the gate. But his blocking ability will ensure he stays on the field, and there are ways to scheme him opportunities in the passing game and play to his strengths as they currently exist.
Right now, Schoonmaker is best on short route concepts, where he can use his explosive athleticism and fluidity to quickly take advantage of mismatches off the line. He can also employ his RAC utility in this phase by using his zone awareness to find space.
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As Schoonmaker expands his route tree, he should start to concurrently expand his imprint into the intermediate and deep ranges of the field. He does have the explosive long-strider athleticism to be a threat up the seam if given opportunities, and his fluid brand of athleticism should translate very well on intermediate digs and outs.
There should be some patience with Schoonmaker, but thankfully, he won’t be pressured too much to be a go-to target right away. The Cowboys have CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, and 2022 third-rounder Jalen Tolbert, as well as 2022 fourth-rounder Jake Ferguson at TE.
Schoonmaker fits in very well with the Cowboys as a rotational threat who brings sturdy utility as a blocker. That blocking ability and niche value in the short-range will serve him well as he builds on his athletic foundation over the course of 2023 and 2024. And ultimately, if he takes the right steps, he does have the physical tools to eventually reach Schultz’s level of production.