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.
|68||Kellen Winslow Jr.||93||438||4,848||23||5.3%|
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.
- 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)
- 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
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.
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