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Jason Witten's 2015 Fantasy Football Outlook

By Jared Smola 9:46am EDT 7/3/15
Draft Sharks Podcast

Has anyone been more reliable than Witten over the past 11 seasons?

In 2004, his 2nd year in the league, Witten posted an 87-980-6 line and a 3rd-place PPR finish. He hasn’t fallen out of the top 9 in the 10 seasons since. Witten has ranked among the top 6 in 6 of those 10 seasons, including a #1 finish in 2007.

Witten has caught at least 64 passes in 11 straight years, topping 80 grabs 6 times. His yardage hasn’t sunk below 703, and he’s tallied four 1,000-yard campaigns. He’s scored 5+ TDs in 7 of those 11 seasons. Oh – the dude hasn’t missed a single game during that span.

Not surprisingly, Witten leads all TEs in catches (908) and yards (10,155) since 2004. He’s 3rd in TDs (56) behind only Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. Witten’s average season over that 11-year stretch: 83 catches, 923 yards, 5 TDs.

So should we just pencil Witten in for another top-9 fantasy season?

It’s not quite that simple. He turned 33 in May – well past the peak age for TEs. And Witten's production has been in decline. His catches and yards have dropped each of the past 2 seasons. His 64 grabs this past year tied for his lowest total over the last 11 years. His 703 yards were an 11-year low.

But volume was a bigger problem than Witten’s play last year. His 90 targets were the 2nd fewest of the past 11 seasons. It marked just the 3rd time over that stretch that he’s failed to reach 111 looks.

The dip in targets was largely a result of Dallas’ run-heavy offense. Only 2 teams ran it at a higher rate, and only 1 team attempted fewer passes.

Witten remained a significant part of the attack when the Cowboys did take to the air. His 90 targets ranked 2nd on the team – 48 behind Dez Bryant but 26 ahead of anyone else. Witten’s 18.9% target share was exactly the same as the previous season and just 2-3 percentage points lower than where he sat in his prime years.

It’s also worth noting that Witten posted a strong 71.1% catch rate last year. That ranked 7th among the 31 TEs who saw 40+ looks. Witten also averaged a decent 11.0 yards per catch, which is less than 2 tenths below his career average.

So it looks like Witten still has some gas left in the tank. And he should benefit from more passing this season after the Cowboys lost workhorse RB DeMarco Murray in free agency. Remember that OC Scott Linehan is a pass-happy play-caller at heart. Prior to last year, all 12 of his offenses had ranked among the top 15 in pass attempts. The Cowboys return the same group of pass-catchers, so look for Witten to again be in the range of an 18-19% target share.

Draft Sharks Bottom Line:

Witten’s 9th-place PPR finish in 2014 was actually his worst over the past 11 years. It was more a result of Dallas’ run-heavy offense than a decline in his own play, though. With RB DeMarco Murray gone, the Cowboys should throw more this season – and Witten’s targets should rise.

He’s already bucked the trend by producing as a TE1 well into his 30s. We don’t see any reason to believe that won’t continue in 2015. Witten looks like a strong – if unexciting – value pick at his 11th-round ADP.

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