Since the dawn of time man has struggled and fought to survive. Noah built an ark. Europe endured the Black Death. Jason Witten played professional American football with a ruptured spleen. Just the words “ruptured spleen” make me cringe, not to mention the idea of being chased down and tackled by NFL linebackers. Not only did Witten not miss a game in 2012, despite rupturing his spleen, he’s only missed one game since 2003 and only not started in two games since 2004.
Unfortunately, Witten’s toughness, longevity and consistency aren’t what he gets attention for. The lack of scoring is his downside. Admittedly, Witten isn’t the most reliable option for touchdowns at tight end. He has scored eight times the last two years combined, after scoring nine times in 2010. In 2012 Witten received an astounding two targets inside the opponent’s 10 yard line. TWO! That’s unheard of for a tight end. He had zero inside the opponent’s five yard line. Other elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez each had at least ten targets inside the opponent’s 10 yard line and had at least five targets inside the opponent’s five yard line. Between 2004 and 2012, Witten has averaged 4.7 touchdowns per season. Obviously, more scoring is expected from a tight end – one of the most logical red zone go-to guys for any offense because of their size advantage, in most cases.
Furthermore, Jason Witten ranked 13th among tight ends in defense-adjusted value over average, or DVOA, which essentially measures the value of plays. Since Witten doesn’t get many looks in the red-zone, obviously the value of his plays won’t be as high. Statistics like this can be deceiving for fantasy owners. They get caught up in Witten’s inability to do what tight ends should do, score. People don’t realize how valuable he is outside of the red-zone.
What Witten lacks in scoring, he makes up for in receptions and yards. His value is magnified in PPR scoring leagues.
Jason Witten set a career mark in receptions in 2012, again, while playing part of the season with a ruptured spleen, catching 110 passes out of 147 targets. His 1,039 receiving yards was the second best amount of Witten’s career, behind only his 2007 total of 1,145. Not many people realize the 6’6″, 261 lb. juggernaut led all tight ends in those three major categories; yes, even ahead of tight end king Jimmy Graham. Witten may have only scored three touchdowns, but he finished fifth in fantasy points among tight ends in standard leagues and was the third highest scoring tight end in PPR leagues. In fact, the last time Jason Witten wasn’t a top five PPR tight end was in 2006 when he finished eighth. Additionally, starting in 2007, (which is when quarterback Tony Romo really came onto the scene) Jason Witten has finished a little better than a top 3 TE in PPR leagues.
With Gronkowski’s status currently up in the air, Jason Witten is the second tight end on my board, in PPR leagues and in standard leagues. As long as Tony Romo is under center, there’s no reason to think Witten won’t be a top five PPR tight end again this year, as he has been the past six seasons. While receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin will see plenty of targets in the Cowboys’ potent offense, Witten will get his fair share as well. I don’t trust DeMarco Murray and the Cowboy’s running game. Dallas’s bread and butter is in its passing game. Romo has at least 520 pass attempts whenever he plays all 16 games. It would be surprising if Witten didn’t get at least 120 of them, since he’s Romo’s safety blanket.
See where FantasyPros 2012 Most Accurate Expert Jody Smith ranks Jason Witten this year.