I have a new favorite piece of slang. It would be to “throw shade.” You can throw shade on a person, a place, an idea, a cat- anything you want. To throw shade means, per Urban Dictionary, “to talk trash... to publicly denounce or disrespect.”
There's another component to it, though, and this is where the wording of the phrase is just amazing; the thing about throwing shade is it normally reflects more negatively on he who throws, rather than the receiver. I love this for the symbolism of it (serious, go grab some shade and try to throw it on your annoying neighbor who has a better lawn and his garage is always clean and his four wheeler is way cool. You can't physically throw a shadow!), and for the fact that it seems to mirror exactly what happens with the Dallas Cowboys and their pass thrower and receivers.
There's been a lot of shade thrown at Gavin Escobar since April. That's how throwing shade relates to a football article. Has he earned that shade? Is the shade actually hitting him, or is it blowing back on the throwers, as shade is wont to do?
There are several issues outside of what Escobar does that compound the issue. First off, he's looking like a rookie in a pack of young offensive players who look to be accelerating their timetables. Fellow pass catchers Cole Beasley and Terrence Williams have outperformed everyone but their mothers' expectations (and even Mrs. Beasley is a little shocked right now, but she won't show it). Joseph Randle was called on to step into a much larger role in Philadelphia, and he handled himself. Travis Frederick and Ron Leary have been, at their very worst, steady on the inside (and, knock on wood, they both seem to be massive upgrades over the players that held their positions in '12).
The Cowboys have an inordinate amount of rookies and redshirts stepping up and helping the club out. That's phenomenal. That should give you a lot of hope for the 2013 season and beyond.
That doesn't mean that Escobar is a bad player. It means he's not exceeding expectations right now, despite the fact others around him are. In fact, it could be argued that Williams and Beasley's emergence is hampering Escobar, because it's hard to put two tight ends on the field with three wide receivers with regularity. He's not taking PT away from Jason Witten, because Jason Witten is Jason Witten. He's not taking PT away from Dez Bryant, because Dez Bryant is some kind monster out of a George RR Martin novel. That leaves a pool of plays to be split among Beasley, Escobar, Dwayne Harris, and, if healthy, Miles Austin (and if Miles is healthy, add Terrance Williams to the pack). It's hard to judge a plant when it's growing in other plant's shade (hey, there's another mention of shade!).
Escobar also gets dogged for the position in which he was drafted. For those blessed with short memories, Escobar was the Cowboys' second round pick last April. The Cowboys were ripe for picking a defensive lineman, since, you know, the 4-3 kind of uses one more down lineman than the 3-4 uses (yes, I know, the OLB's from the old 3-4 were going to become DE's in the new 4-3. That kind of ruins the joke, though). Rather than picking a defensive lineman, though, Escobar was the guy. There was grand talk of Escobar and Witten forming a pre-forearm destruction Gronkowski and pre-murder-Hernandez-like duo. It fit into the Romo-friendliness strategy of the first three rounds of the draft – get him a center, then get him two pass catchers.
(As an aside, Jason Witten was drafted in 2003; the Cowboys have drafted six tight ends, three of which were in the second round. How many other teams have had an All-Pro for the last decade, and drafted a player of the same position in half the drafts since?)
(As a second aside, if the draft played out all over again the same way, with the knowledge the Cowboys have now, is there a player they would have taken over Terrance Williams with Escobar's pick?)
I've always thought that once a player signs his deal, his draft status goes out the window – the story either becomes that the player can play or he can't. In terms of judging the drafter, then, yes, how you position yourself in the draft and how you leverage your position and how well you play your draft board- all these matters come into play. In terms of judging the player, though, I think holding draft position as a measuring stick is a little unfair. This is also happening to Morris Claiborne; several pundits have said, “For what the Cowboys put into him, he needs to be an All-Pro.” Fair statement in regard to rating Jerry Jones, the drafter, but it feels disingenuous to base your expectations of a player on who the team thought he was better than on the day they brought him into the organization. It's fair to laugh at Jack Zduriencik for drafting Dustin Ackley when Mike Trout was on the board – but is it really fair to denigrate Dustin Ackley based off the fact that Mike Trout is much better at baseball than him and everyone else who is playing baseball?
For the season, Escobar has been targeted 9 times, turning those targets into 4 receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown. His completion rate as a receiver is only 44%, which is bad- but he is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt thrown his way, which is right in line with Tony Romo's season average of 7.5 yards per attempt, which is pretty good. It's also the same Yards-Per-Target as Jason Witten. Unfortunately for Escobar, the two key plays he's been involved with this year are steeped in ignominy – the INT in the Denver game that was meant for him, since it cost the Cowboys the game, and the TD against St. Louis, because, come on, it's St. Louis.
In the end, the draft strategy that brought Escobar here is questionable as heck, and I'm not going to bring up any issues with anyone saying such. But, if in the end of the story, Gavin Escobar is a useful player that gives the Cowboys four good, cheap years of production, then it's a happy story. Escobar isn't doing that right now, but the signs are there, around the edges, that he might be able to.
If you've followed the team at all for the last eighteen years, I know you should just be happy with getting a good player out of a draft. If you're not, I'll take it as a sign that you are a genuine Cowboys fan.