Is Jason Witten's Impact Overblown?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 16, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 23:  Jason Witten #82 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On paper, Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys was the NFL's most productive tight end in 2012. Considering that he entered the year with a lacerated spleen that hadn't yet fully healed, that's pretty remarkable. 

But in trying to dig deeper into what Witten's impact was last year, Jimmy Kempski from Blogging the Beast introduced the world-famous quality-vs.-quantity debate.

See, while Witten led all tight ends with 110 catches, he was also the most targeted tight end in the league. 

He averaged only 9.4 yards per reception, a career low which ranked second-last in the league among tight ends with at least 50 catches. And he finished with only three touchdowns, which ranked below 13 tight ends—all of whom were targeted significantly less often than he was.

So was Witten too much of a safety valve? The 30-year-old wasn't targeted deep very often, but he only caught two of the 11 20-plus-yard passes thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus.

By contrast, he caught eight of the 12 deep passes thrown his way in 2011, dropping zero. He also averaged 2.5 more yards per catch and finished with five touchdowns (his touchdown total has dropped by between 40 and 50 percent each of the last two seasons). 

Witten still caught 75.3 percent of the passes thrown his way. Only five tight ends had more dropped passes, but because he was targeted so much, his drop rate of 6.8 ranked well above average (per PFF). 

So he's still extremely reliable, he just didn't perform like a true playmaker in 2012.

Was the spleen injury a factor? Maybe, because his only two double-digit reception games came during the first half of the year, while two of his three touchdowns came during the final three weeks. Over the first four weeks of the season, he averaged just 9.0 yards per catch, but during a two-week stretch in December, Witten averaged 17.0 yards per reception on 10 catches. 

Maybe he'll begin making more big plays in 2013. He'll be 31, but age didn't stop Tony Gonzalez.