I recently replied to the great Ed Werder (formerly of ESPN) regarding Jason Witten's potential as a first ballot hall of famer.
True, but when you're in the elite of elite company at a position, it makes sense. Maybe only 1 TE better than Witten in the history of NFL.
— John Williams (@john9williams) August 2, 2017
And I got killed for it.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) August 2, 2017
This….. now this is a HOT take! https://t.co/LzeZ8WfWCh
— Ben Millett (@BenMillett_) August 2, 2017
There's a lot more than 1. https://t.co/GAwzdhfGtV
— Anthony Nash (@_anthonynash) August 2, 2017
Lmao Witten is the only Cowboy I respect but he's not even close to the 2nd best TE of all time man https://t.co/UqsMKjH1S1
— Jon (@BirdsSooners) August 2, 2017
Jason Witten just might be the Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Cowboys, vastly underrated and highly disrespected. He isn't flashy or fancy, but his numbers speak for themselves.
So let's look at those numbers.
In receptions, Witten has the second most receptions by a tight end of all-time. Including wide receivers, Witten currently ranks 7th in career receptions behind; Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez, Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, and Tim Brown. He's sitting in front of Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, and Randy Moss.
Witten has averaged 70 catches per season over the last three seasons and needs only 14 receptions to move up to 4th all-time in career receptions.
To Mr. Werder's point about Kellen Winslow, he has less than half as many receptions as Jason Witten has. When it's all said and done, Witten will have 300 more receptions than Shannon Sharpe.
In career receiving yards, Witten sits only behind Tony Gonzalez at the tight end position.
With a modest 700 receiving yards in 2017, Witten will sit 21st among all pass catchers in receiving yards. Antonio Gates, who came into the league the same year as Witten, sits roughly 700 yards behind Witten.
Touchdowns is where Witten falls behind some of the great tight ends of his era. He's fourth at the position in touchdown receptions behind Gonzalez, Gates, and Rob Gronkowski. Witten, however, scored more touchdowns than Winslow and Sharpe.
Here is what separates Witten from the rest: Availability.
Of the possible games that Witten could have played since his rookie season in 2003, Witt has played in 99.5% of those games. He's only missed one game in his entire career. Witten has played in every game since week five of 2003. That's 219 consecutive games played. No active non-kicker has played in as many games in a row as Jason Witten.
Since 2004, Witten has started all but two games. He played in those games, just wasn't part of the starting lineup. He's been a starter for 99% of his team's games since 2004 and has started a total of 95% of the games since he's been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
Tony Gonzalez started 94% of his possible games and missed two games during his illustrious career.
Antonio Gates has missed 20 games throughout his career. Meaning he's only played in 91% of his team's games, starting only 82.5% of those games.
For Rob Gronkowski, the cream of the tight end crop today, the numbers are a bit more alarming. In seven seasons Gronkowski has only played 16 games twice in his career. He's only played in 78% of his team's 112 games since coming into the league. While he has been a dynamic player, his lack of availability–to me–hurts his status as one of the greats of all-time.
Regarding Winslow again, he missed a ton of time in his career. He played in only 75% of his team's possible 144 games over his nine-year career. You can't be considered one of the greatest if you aren't on the field. Three times in his nine-year career Winslow played nine or fewer games.
Shannon Sharpe started only 75% of the games that his teams played and was only available for 91% of those games.
Jason Witten has never been the flashiest player at the tight end position. He isn't going to dunk on the goal posts like Tony Gonzalez or Jimmy Graham. He isn't going to make headlines for Gronk being Gronk antics. He is going to be steady and available.
What Witten has been over the course of his career is one of the most reliable players in the history of the NFL.
Just ask Tony Romo.