Is Jason Witten Worth Drafting in Fantasy Football?

Witten's draft-day price presents significant value, but should you bother drafting him?

Way back in the year 2004, I spent my high school days quoting Anchorman.

I would interrupt conversations to say "I love lamp" like Brick Tamland. While I was behaving like a 16-year-old moron, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was starting his streak as a yearly top-10 tight end in fantasy football. In 2015, the Cowboys were mired with awful quarterback play, yet Witten managed to work his magic and finish in 10th in tight end scoring in PPR leagues.

Even after a top-10 season, Witten is being drafted as an afterthought among tight ends. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, he's being drafted as the 19th tight end off the board in PPR leagues, which is very late for a proven commodity like Witten.

What has led to this fall, and even at his current value, is he worth drafting?

Eureka's Cassel

Witten's lack of success could be attributed to the Cowboys miserable play after losing players like Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to multi-week injuries.

Losing Romo could have been the death knell in his fantasy season because backup quarterback Matt Cassel was abhorrent in his starts with Dallas. According to our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can see how pathetic Cassel performed last season. NEP factors in variables such as down-and-distance to place a value on how much a player contributes to his team's expected point output. For example, a completion of 4 yards on 3rd-and-3 is more significant than a 7-yard completion on 3rd-and-10. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

Among 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs in 2015, Cassel (-0.14) ranked next to last -- ahed of only Nick Foles (-0.17) -- in Passing NEP per drop back. The gap between Cassel's 36th-ranked -0.14 and 35th-ranked Colin Kaepernick's -0.03 was about the same distance as between Kaepernick's score and 19th-ranked Alex Smith's 0.08.

Even with the worst quarterback play in Witten's career, he still clawed and grabbed his way to a top-10 season.

In his small showing in 2015, current Cowboys backup quarterback Kellen Moore sparked the offense. His Passing NEP per drop back was 0.09, which was comparable to Andrew Luck's 0.08 rating from 2015, albeit over a much smaller sample size for Moore. If Romo were to go down, Witten would at least have a competent quarterback who could move the ball. But even with competent quarterback play, has Witten begun to regress?

Father Time Is Undefeated

Witten has missed only one game in his career -- when he broke his jaw as a rookie. He's gutted his way through some gruesome injuries to make sure he put points up for your fantasy team, and how does the general public repay him for his efforts?

They draft Eric Ebron, who has neither eclipsed 100 receiving yards nor caught more than 5 passes in a game. For shame!

All kidding aside, drafting a young tight end with upside like Ebron makes sense because Witten has begun naturally regressing as he reaches age 34.

Year PPR Points Reception NEP/Target
2010 248.2 0.68
2011 203.2 0.70
2012 231.9 0.65
2013 206.1 0.69
2014 164.3 0.83
2015 164.3 0.45

His Reception NEP fell quite a bit from 2014 to 2015, although the play of Cassel certainly affected his numbers. In Weeks 1 and 2 when Romo was healthy, Witten posted a 0.64 and 0.59 mark.

According to the RotoViz Game Splits App, Witten averaged 12.72 PPR points per game when Romo started and only 9.61 when Romo was out in 2015. While his advanced analytics and fantasy stats both regressed, it's not unreasonable to expect Witten to improve if we get a healthy season from Romo. But will it matter?

Should You Draft Witten?

While I believe that Witten is going to easily exceed his current ADP, he is certainly an option that lacks upside. Witten hasn't scored 20 fantasy points in a game since 2010. Still, Witten is a safe option at tight end in PPR leagues, as he caught four or more passes or more in 13 games last season.

That makes Witten an ideal target if you plan on drafting players returning from significant injuries such as Tyler Eifert or Jimmy Graham. They both present tremendous risk and upside, and Eifert's ADP will continue to slide as long as he continues to miss training camp. If you draft Eifert and he is set to return early in the season, you can use Witten until he returns.

And if Romo returns to his usual ways, you might be able to rely on Witten for even longer this season.