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Player Spotlight: Jason Witten

A detailed look at Jason Witten's fantasy prospects for 2013

The term 'value' is overused in fantasy football circles. Yet, Jason Witten was the very definition of value pick last year thanks to a confluence of factors. For those who didn't follow Witten's accomplishments last year, he set an NFL record with 110 receptions at the tight end position. His 1,039 yards marked the 4th time Witten has gone over the 1,000 yard mark in his storied career.

The 'value' came because of a spleen injury that left his health in question leading right up until the season. Most thought he would miss a few games at best, and if his spleen ruptured further it would be season-ending. Brave fantasy owners were only willing to take the perennial Pro Bowler 78th overall (7th tight end), an 7th or 8th round pick in 10- and 12-team leagues.

That was a very, very smart decision.

But realistically how often does a player have a major health risk, fall in drafts, and then play all 16 games at an elite level? It's rare, and we don't have the advantage of Witten's health at our disposal this year. His current ADP (52nd, TE3) puts him squarely into the camp of having to deliver a typical Witten season to justify the choice.

More of the Same...Why Not?
Is there any reason to expect a drop off for the 31 year old? Let's consider his supporting circumstances:

  • The system remains intact, although OC Bill Callahan will call plays this year
  • Tony Romo, his roommate during away games, remains under center and will have a larger role in game-planning
  • The offensive line was improved with the addition of center Travis Frederick
  • Dez Bryant and Miles Austin remain lined up outside
  • DeMarco Murray remains at the RB position, and is healthy
  • Witten is coming off a career year, and is healthy

Does that sound like someone due for regression? Certainly not. 

The Touchdown Conundrum
If there's one black mark on Witten's fantasy value, it's the incessant inability to score touchdowns at a rate commensurate with his reception totals. There are 89 active players with at least 200 career receptions; Witten ranks 66th in TDs per target (5.5%). At this point in his career, we can't simply dismiss it as a cruel twist of statistical fate, we have to assume Witten won't find the end zone many times.

RankPlayerGRecsYdsTDsTD%
1 Randy Moss 218 982 15,292 156 15.9%
2 Mike Wallace 63 235 4,042 32 13.6%
3 James Jones 90 251 3,488 34 13.5%
4 Dez Bryant 43 200 2,871 27 13.5%
5 Vincent Jackson 107 344 6,138 45 13.1%
6 Antonio Gates 147 642 8,321 83 12.9%
7 Jordy Nelson 73 217 3,276 28 12.9%
8 Greg Jennings 96 425 6,537 53 12.5%
9 Miles Austin 95 277 4,237 34 12.3%
10 Sidney Rice 73 228 3,361 27 11.8%
11 Anthony Fasano 108 205 2,373 24 11.7%
12 Lance Moore 88 309 3,824 36 11.7%
13 Jimmy Graham 46 215 2,648 25 11.6%
14 Vernon Davis 104 345 4,351 40 11.6%
15 Plaxico Burress 147 553 8,499 64 11.6%
16 Nate Washington 113 313 4,730 35 11.2%
17 Daniel Graham 148 224 2,490 25 11.2%
18 Braylon Edwards 102 359 5,522 40 11.1%
19 Visanthe Shiancoe 148 243 2,677 27 11.1%
20 Calvin Johnson 92 488 7,836 54 11.1%
21 Donte Stallworth 115 321 4,837 35 10.9%
22 Marques Colston 102 532 7,394 58 10.9%
23 Malcom Floyd 88 233 3,984 25 10.7%
24 Hakeem Nicks 55 255 3,726 27 10.6%
25 Dallas Clark 131 474 5,322 50 10.5%
26 Brandon Stokley 146 384 5,224 39 10.2%
27 Larry Fitzgerald 140 764 10,413 77 10.1%
28 Jeremy Maclin 59 258 3,453 26 10.1%
29 Steve Johnson 64 249 3,235 25 10.0%
30 Santonio Holmes 92 358 5,507 35 9.8%
31 Greg Olsen 94 308 3,364 30 9.7%
32 Heath Miller 123 408 4,680 39 9.6%
33 Santana Moss 171 680 9,715 64 9.4%
34 Mario Manningham 62 202 2,764 19 9.4%
35 Dwayne Bowe 88 415 5,728 39 9.4%
36 Nate Burleson 126 418 5,169 38 9.1%
37 Brandon Lloyd 128 385 5,695 35 9.1%
38 Tony Scheffler 102 251 3,125 22 8.8%
39 Ben Watson 116 321 3,776 28 8.7%
40 Pierre Garcon 68 232 3,152 20 8.6%
41 Todd Heap 146 499 5,869 42 8.4%
42 DeSean Jackson 71 274 4,785 23 8.4%
43 Roddy White 128 622 8,725 52 8.4%
44 Tony Gonzalez 254 1242 14,268 103 8.3%
45 Donald Driver 205 743 10,137 61 8.2%
46 Devery Henderson 123 245 4,377 20 8.2%
47 Steve Smith 167 772 11,452 63 8.2%
48 Darren Sproles 107 307 2,777 25 8.1%
49 Michael Crabtree 58 260 3,345 21 8.1%
50 Reggie Wayne 189 968 13,063 78 8.1%
51 Marcedes Lewis 109 272 3,224 21 7.7%
52 Chris Cooley 116 429 4,711 33 7.7%
53 Deion Branch 140 518 6,644 39 7.5%
54 Anquan Boldin 140 772 10,165 58 7.5%
55 Brandon Marshall 107 612 7,755 45 7.4%
56 Owen Daniels 95 361 4,365 26 7.2%
57 Brent Celek 95 280 3,473 20 7.1%
58 Percy Harvin 54 280 3,302 20 7.1%
59 Michael Jenkins 130 354 4,427 25 7.1%
60 Dustin Keller 72 241 2,876 17 7.1%
61 Kevin Walter 152 356 4,379 25 7.0%
62 Andre Johnson 138 818 11,254 56 6.8%
63 Devin Hester 107 217 2,807 14 6.5%
64 Brandon Pettigrew 57 243 2,412 14 5.8%
65 Randy McMichael 164 426 4,539 24 5.6%
66 Jason Witten 159 806 8,948 44 5.5%
67 Jabar Gaffney 158 447 5,690 24 5.4%
68 Kellen Winslow Jr. 93 438 4,848 23 5.3%
69 Zach Miller 93 289 3,341 15 5.2%
70 Jerricho Cotchery 129 391 4,956 20 5.1%
71 Wes Welker 140 768 8,580 38 4.9%
72 Steve Smith 64 245 2,641 12 4.9%
73 Eddie Royal 67 229 2,341 10 4.4%
74 Reggie Bush 91 372 2,730 15 4.0%
75 Pierre Thomas 78 205 1,717 8 3.9%
76 Jason Avant 100 259 3,199 10 3.9%
77 Maurice Jones-Drew 99 292 2,559 11 3.8%
78 Davone Bess 77 321 3,447 12 3.7%
79 LeSean McCoy 58 220 1,588 8 3.6%
80 Mewelde Moore 122 220 1,952 8 3.6%
81 Steve Breaston 86 255 3,387 9 3.5%
82 Matt Forte 75 267 2,325 9 3.4%
83 Frank Gore 116 315 2,631 10 3.2%
84 Willis McGahee 130 202 1,319 5 2.5%
85 Fred Jackson 76 209 1,752 5 2.4%
86 Steven Jackson 131 407 3,324 8 2.0%
87 Ray Rice 77 311 2,713 6 1.9%
88 Chris Johnson 79 230 1,658 4 1.7%
89 Ronnie Brown 106 233 1,862 2 0.9%

Luckily, his fantasy value has been elite in spite of the minimal scoring. And think about it, if he ever does have a season with 8-10 scores, Witten would vie for top 10-12 overall fantasy value.

POSITIVES

  • Witten is quietly building a Hall of Fame resume, and has an enviable floor of approximately 80 receptions and 900 yards
  • Tony Romo is a hyper accurate quarterback and remains in his prime, and Witten is his most trusted target
  • New play-caller Bill Callahan could lead the Cowboys to more consistency, which means more trips into the red zone and, in turn, more opportunities for Witten to score TDs (the one missing link in his greatness)

NEGATIVES

  • Witten doesn't score touchdowns in proportion to his targets
  • The offensive line changes need to take hold or Witten could be asked to block more

FINAL THOUGHTS

Jason Witten is under appreciated and has been for most of his career. How many tight ends are locks for 80-90 receptions and 900-1,000 yards? Yet the lack of touchdowns keeps him from being considered a top option in comparison to players like Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. In PPR leagues, Witten is no worse than the 3rd best fantasy TE and that assumes Rob Gronkowski is healthy. While you won't have the opportunity to draft Witten late on an injury fear this year, his ADP (52nd overall, TE3) remains reasonable for the production he'll provide. Not a value pick per se, but certainly a valuable pick.

PROJECTIONS

Staff MemberRecsYdsTDsFPTs
David Dodds 90 909 4 115
Bob Henry 92 930 5 123
Jason Wood 95 1,010 5 131
Maurile Tremblay 103 963 5 126

THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB

Adam McGill of RantSports believes Witten will be an elite fantasy TE yet again:

The only negative from Witten last year was that he scored just three touchdowns, which was his lowest total since 2009. However, the Cowboys weren’t exactly dominating the NFC and touchdowns were hard to come by. The Boys’ offense will be much more efficient in 2013 with everyone coming back healthy, so expect an uptick in fantasy value across the board.

The RotoProfessor believes Jason Witten is an elite tight end in spite of a lack of touchdowns:

No other tight end had over 1,000 yards receiving in 2012 and, with the health concerns hanging over Rob Gronkowski, you can argue that only Jimmy Graham offers a similar upside. Only Tony Gonzalez had as many as 90 receptions a year ago, and do any of us expect him to match that total?

The fact is that the value will be there from Witten, with or without the TD. Of course, if he could score 8+ TD, instead of 3-5, fantasy owners would be that much happier. It’s not impossible, but with Bryant emerging it also is hard to predict.


More from Jason Wood:

Preseason Watch List - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC North - July 22
Preseason Watch List: NFC North - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC South - July 22
Preseason Watch List: NFC South - July 22
Player Spotlight: Andre Ellington - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC East - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC East - July 21