Tight end Jason Witten is the type of player everyone wants on their team. He’s durable, dependable, and a great leader. Witten has gone over the 900-yard mark as a receiver in each of the last six seasons. In 2013, it won’t happen. Here are four reasons why.
Witten’s efficiency has plummeted.
On a per-catch basis, it was pretty evident that Witten regressed in 2012. He averaged just 9.4 yards per reception—down 2.5 yards from 2011. Part of that is probably due to the short routes that he ran; the average pass to Witten was just 8.3 yards in length.
However, if Witten’s decline in yards per reception was due solely to shorter routes, we wouldn’t expect his yards per route to decline. That’s because he’d catch a higher percentage of his targets and total more catches (which he did) and yards. But take a look at Witten’s yards per route over the past five seasons:
Notice a trend? With fewer targets, Witten is going to see his bulk stats drop significantly.
He won’t see such a huge workload again.
Witten saw 150 passes come his way in 2012. That’s the most he’s ever had, and 33 more than he saw in 2011. Even if Witten repeats them 6.93 yards per target he posted last year, he would record only 866 yards on 125 targets. To surpass 900 yards receiving, Witten would need 130 targets, which he’s seen only twice in his career.
His catch rate will regress.
Witten caught 73.3 percent of passes thrown his way in 2012. In comparison, it was 67.5 percent in 2011, although that was a down year. The only reason Witten’s catch rate was so high last year, though, was the short length of his targets. If he’s used downfield more often and doesn’t see so many quick out routes that defenses let him have late in games, his catch rate will drop a bit.
Witten is 31 years old.
The most important reason that Witten won’t have 900 receiving yards in 2013 is that he’s getting old. He has hit the age that most tight ends see a massive drop in production. Last year at this time, I wrote that Witten’s decline is inevitable:
Moving forward, I think you’ll see Witten’s production remain relatively stable in 2012. As a receiver, 900 yards and five touchdowns is a reasonable expectation, assuming he doesn’t experience any setbacks with his lacerated spleen. In 2013 and beyond, however, Witten’s fall might be a swift one.
Although I projected Witten at 88 catches for 880 yards and four touchdowns for 2013, he admittedly has a low floor. Is the Cowboys’ draft evidence that they know that? I’m not sure, but the presence of Gavin Escobar and James Hanna might be more important than you think.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.