Spotlight - TE Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Posted 8/17 by Jason Wood and David Yudkin,
Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Jason Wood's Thoughts
The last thing you want is to be the guy who takes the first of a bunch of similarly productive players, while other league members draft at other positions and then come back around to grab someone in the same tier a round or two later, thus gaining "value" against you. In my mind, for as talented as Jason Witten may be, I think he's merely the best of a closely grouped bunch. Given his high ADP, I think to draft him is to open yourself up to the very situation we all ideally try to avoid.
I don't want to sell Witten's 2004 achievements short. His 87 receptions, 980 yards and six touchdowns were good enough to put him 3rd among fantasy TEs, behind only All World Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.
While Witten should remain the focal point of the Cowboys passing attack, I also think his 2004 numbers are more like a ceiling than a baseline some are projecting. One, the Cowboys threw the ball a lot more than intended last year because of the sorry state of the defense and the early struggles in the running game. We already know the running game is in good stead (thanks to Julius Jones, and the additions of Marion Barber and OG Marco Rivera), and the defense was a major offseason priority. Two, the Cowboys had one and a half options at WR, as Keyshawn was steady but Terry Glenn got hurt and Quincy Morgan was limited as an in season pickup. Three, and this is the important one: NFL tight ends have caught more than Witten's 980 yards just 21 times in the history of the league. Simply put, it's rare for any tight end to put up that kind of yardage much less do it in consecutive seasons.
Putting a finer point on this, here are the NFL tight ends who had at least 950 yards in a given season (# of seasons above 950 in parentheses):
- Mark Bavaro (Once)
- Todd Christensen (Four Times)
- Ben Coates (Once)
- Mike Ditka (Once)
- Antonio Gates (Once)
- Tony Gonzalez (Twice)
- Ozzie Newsome (Three Times)
- Dave Parks (Twice)
- Joe Senser (Once)
- Shannon Sharpe (Four Times)
- Jackie Smith (Once)
- Kellen Winslow (Three Times)
- Jason Witten (Once)
Even many of the league's all time greats failed to achieve that kind of yardage total more than once. Maybe you see Jason Witten as an all-time great, but I'm not ready to anoint him into that tier just yet.
- Witten showed better hands and route running than expected
- HC Parcells and QB Drew Bledsoe both have a history of utilizing their tight ends effectively
- With Terry Glenn and Quincy Morgan as the 2nd and 3rd receivers, Witten should remain one of the team's most targeted receivers game in, game out
- History suggests Witten, regardless of his talent level, is unlikely to match last year's output, much less exceed it
- The Cowboys want to run more, play tough defense, and that ultimately means less passing attempts and targets for Witten and the entire receiving corps
If we drafted in a vacuum, I would find Jason Witten appealing. After all, I see him as a surefire top 5 or 6 tight end with a very real shot at finishing among the top 3, again. Yet, I also expect Witten's 2005 production to be much closer to that of Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap, Alge Crumpler and Randy McMichael than that of Gonzalez or Gates. Yet you have to draft Witten a round or two earlier than many of his fellow 2nd tier options. That's not the way to maximize value, so I would encourage you to utilize restraint this year.
David Yudkin's Thoughts
Jason Witten emerged last year to have a fine sophomore campaign and post WR-like numbers (87-980-6) for a sputtering Cowboys offense wrought with injuries. While many felt he would eventually become a solid player, not many expected a breakout quite so soon. Many fantasy owners reaped the rewards of selecting Witten in the mid to late rounds of drafts last year, and while Antonio Gates hogged the limelight in the “coming out of nowhere” category, Witten was almost as good and almost as valuable.
Good things are likely in store for Witten again this year, and he could continue to improve, see more targets, and stake his claim for inclusion in the same tier of elite TE that Tony Gonzalez and Gates are currently in. There is just as likely a chance, though, that he could slip some but remain a solid second tier option with upside.
Witten had the best season ever for a 22-year-old tight end, and became only the 5th TE to have 80 receptions and 900 yards in his first or second season (along with Gates, Keith Jackson, Kellen Winslow, and Dave Parks’ phenomenal 1965 season—80/1344/12).
With such great numbers from Witten, what’s not to like? Well, there’s always something that doesn’t add up, and looking at the numbers from last year there are some quirky attributes to his great season that bear some scrutiny.
Witten piled on some great numbers early in the season, but the Cowboys were a different team when Julius Jones took over at tailback. When Jones vaulted to the forefront of the offense, it adversely impacted Witten’s numbers. That could be a precursor that Witten was a stop-gap measure and not a primary offensive weapon as many people are hoping he will be.
Witten’s stats in the 9 games prior to Jones breakout:
6.0 receptions, 69 receiving yards, 0.56 TD, 10.3 fantasy points per game
(Projects to 1,104 receiving yards and 9 TDs over a full season)
Witten’s stats during Jones’ 7 game rampage at the end of the year:
4.7 receptions, 51 receiving yards, 0.14 TD, 5.94 fantasy points per game
(Projects to 816 receiving yards and 2 TDs over a a full season)
Perhaps even more telling is the breakdown for Witten with Jones AND WR Terry Glenn out of the lineup.
In the 4 games without Jones & Glenn:
8 receptions, 107 receiving yards, 1 TD, 16.7 fantasy points per game
In 12 other games:
4.5 receptions, 46.1 receiving yards, 0.17 YD, 5.6 fantasy points per game
While this may just be a coincidence, it should at least perk your ears as to how Witten fits in with the offense and how he might be utilized.
- Offers WR production from a TE slot, and in PPR leagues has even more fantasy value.
- We all saw what Coates did for many years teamed with Bledsoe in a Parcells offense.
- Talent often trumps everything else, and Witten has already proven he’s one of the most talented young tight ends in the league
- Witten was exceptional as the primary target for a month last year. With other key players healthy, he was still good but not elite.
- If the post 2005 Cowboys video yearbook is entitled, “The Julius Jones Show with the June Taylor Dancers,” Witten could blend in with the other supporting players.
- Parcells has publicly stated he wants to run the ball 30-35 times a game. While unlikely, it does indicate that passing may not be a high priority in Big D this season.
There is no denying that Witten has a ton of talent and is one of the best TE in the league. It appears that Parcells and the Cowboys plan on getting even more conservative this year with the offense, and that could work for or against Witten. Parcells has evangelized much of training camp how often the team will run the ball this year. That should mean fewer passing attempts, but short routes to tight ends are generally not all that risky.
All signs point to the offense featuring Julius Jones as the centerpiece, and Jones will likely be the one that gets the goal line love in Dallas. Witten will play a big part of the offense, but I suspect it won’t be quite as big as last season.
Quotations from the Message Board Thread
To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there),
Still a very favorable situation for Witten - he's still the best receiver on the team; Parcells loves him; and Tuna has a history of getting solid production out of talented TEs.
I think a lot of things converged last season to make Witten look better than he really is. The horrible running game, the amount Vinny aired it out, the WR injuries and inconsistency... I still have him as TE3, but at quite a step down from the other guys.
Jason Witten Projections
|Message Board Consensus||80||900||6|