Dalton Schultz is Quietly Becoming a Star for the Dallas Cowboys

Now at 10-4 and winners of three-straight games, the Dallas Cowboys have to be feeling like they’re hitting their stride at the right time. They’re fresh off a 21-6 win on the road against the New York Giants. The playoffs, and the title of the best team in the NFC East, are right around the corner. The Cowboys have a talented squad, without a doubt. There is no lack of star power in Dallas on either side of the football. In the middle of it all, literally, is a fourth-year tight end quietly having the best season of his career. His name is Dalton Schultz.

Dalton Schultz is becoming a major target for the Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz
Dalton Schultz #86 of the Dallas Cowboys catches the ball for a touchdown in front of Logan Ryan #23 of the New York Giants | Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The star power Dallas boasts is legitimate, from Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott on offense to Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs on defense.

Prescott and Elliott get top billing on the offense because they’re the big names, but Dallas is stacked all across the board. Let’s not forget about second-year wideout CeeDee Lamb, who’s quickly becoming a top-tier player, or Amari Cooper, who has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL since he entered the league in 2015. Micael Gallup is as good as a No. 3 wide receiver as you’ll find in the NFL, and the Cowboys boast big names on the offensive line like Zach Martin and Tyron Smith (when healthy).

There’s no doubt about it; Jerry Jones has compiled himself an all-star team on paper. That’s what has made Dallas’ offensive struggles at times this season so frustrating. That’s also why Prescott has so much pressure on his shoulders. That, and his $40 million a year price tag.

Schultz is in the midst of all this star power, and he’s becoming a star himself. Picked by Dallas in the fourth round of the 2018 draft out of Stanford, Schultz had a breakout season in 2020 that saw him catch 63 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns.

If 2020 was the breakout, this season has established the 6-foot-5, 244-pound tight end as the real deal.

Schultz notched a few career bests against the New York Giants

It can’t stressed enough. On a field with elite offensive talents like Elliott, Lamb, and Cooper, Schultz led all Dallas receivers in receptions and yards in the win against the Giants. He caught eight passes for 67 yards and a touchdown, establishing the fact that defenses just can’t focus on the receivers on the outside while letting him roam free between the hashes.

He and Prescott have developed great chemistry this season, and his smart route-running, big frame, and soft hands make him an ideal safety blanket for the quarterback.

That was evident on his touchdown catch late in the third quarter.

Down at the goal line and up 15-6 with just over two minutes to go in the third, Dallas called a play-action pass with Prescott’s initial read being tight end Sean McKeon coming off a jet-motion into the right flat. That was covered up nicely by New York, as was Prescott’s second read, lineman Connor McGovern, who was eligible on the play and leaked into the front of the end zone. That left the ever-patient Schultz, who ran an in-breaking route deep in the end zone, got great separation, and used his speed and length to become an excellent target for an easy throw from Prescott.

The touchdown catch was Schultz’s fifth of the season, which is a career-best. He has also now accumulated 651 reception yards this season, another career-best, and is three catches away from breaking his career-best in receptions (63) as well.

Schultz is becoming an X-factor player for the Cowboys

Dalton Schultz, TE, Dallas Cowboys
Dalton Schultz #86 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball after a catch during the first half against the New York Giants | Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

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The wonderful thing about what the Cowboys have created on offense is that they have the ability to force a defense to pick its poison.

If a defense decides to play soft and deep on Lamb and Cooper, the Cowboys would be more than happy to pound the rock with Elliott and Tony Pollard, who is becoming a nice 1B option at running back for Dallas. That also opens up the middle of the field and underneath zones for Schultz.

If defenses decide to load the box and play close to the line of scrimmage in order to stop the run, Dallas’ weapons, including Schultz, will have a field day.

In terms of what the Giants tried and failed to do against Dallas, Schultz knew the Cowboys had the opportunity to make big plays.

“These guys play a lot of soft zone, and we knew that. We’re going to have a bunch of shell coverage,” Schultz said, according to the team website. “If teams want to play zone against us, with guys we have on the outside, just getting to the spots, being in the right place for Dak. The underneath stuff can always open up when you have threats and weapons on the edge like we do.”

Heading into the Giants game, Schultz knew he would have an opportunity to play a significant role based on how the Giants were likely to try to stop Dallas’ star power. Frankly, he’s had those opportunities all season long, and he’s been taking advantage of them and is having the best year of his career in the process.

On a team full of big names and big contracts, Schultz is proving his name should be on the list.

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. Contract information via Spotrac.