by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Cowboys’ Jason Witten has long been viewed as one of the best tight ends in the league, and with good reason. There are few players (wide receivers or tight ends) who you could pencil in for 85 receptions and 1,000 yards in any given season. That’s what you had in Witten, even if the TD weren’t always there, and there certainly is something to be said with that type of consistency.
However, he will be 33-years old entering the 2014 and you have to wonder if the Cowboys are slowly starting to transition away from him. It’s not that his line was poor in 2013, but he saw a decline across the board:
The receptions, targets and yards were all his lowest since 2006. That helps to show that they started trying to utilize other options, a trend that could easily continue in 2014. That’s not to say that Witten wasn’t a major part of the offense, as he was the second most targeted player on the team (behind Dez Bryant), but someone like Terrence Williams (who we will take a detailed look at in the future) could easily continue to see his role expand.
What’s interesting, though, is that despite the reduced production Witten actually enjoyed one of his better TD seasons. His 8 TD were the second most of his career (he had 9 in 2010), which is a promising number. Maybe the Cowboys are finally going to utilize him as a go to option in the red zone?
It’s obviously something we want to believe, but it’s impossible to consider it a given. The fact that they haven’t done it to this point in his career (he had 8 total TD between 2012 and 2013) alone should make us skeptical. It makes more sense to go in expecting him to produce 4-6 TD, as he has for the bulk of his career, with anything more than that as a bonus.
As for the yardage/receptions, he’s not simply going to disappear. Even if someone like Williams fully emerges, Witten was producing numbers with Bryant and Miles Austin thriving on the outside. At his age he may not be the 90 catch, 1,200 yard monster he was previously, but last year is more his floor than his ceiling.
Under that assumption, it’s hard not to like Witten once again in 2014. His 73 receptions actually tied him for fifth among TE. His yardage was also fifth for his position. In fact, there were only seven tight ends to score more than 6 TD (including Witten) so even a regression there isn’t going to hurt him.
Witten may not be the same player that he once was, but his age shouldn’t be the reason to avoid him (see Tony Gonzalez). He’s still going to produce like a TE1 and should remain a viable, dependable option in all formats. How many tight ends can you really say that about?
Sources – ESPN, NFL.com