Dynasty

Dynasty Debate: Jason Witten vs. Dennis Pitta

wittenpitta

The tight end position, as far as dynasty owners are concerned, may be deeper this off-season than any in recent memory.  Most dynasty owners consider Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski the cream of the crop at the position, followed by Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron.  After those four, the next ten tight ends rank closely to most dynasty owners and a case could be made for any of them to be taken fifth at the position in startups.

Included in that next tier of tight ends are the Ravens’ Dennis Pitta, who was selected eighth at his position with an ADP of 88.3 in April mock drafts put together by Ryan McDowell, and the Cowboys’ Jason Witten, who had an ADP of 112.5 was taken 14th among tight ends.

To find out which of the two tight ends dynasty owners should be trusting as a TE1, Jeff Beran and I decided to debate the topic.

Dan’s Argument for Dennis Pitta

There are many dynasty owners who are leery of Pitta.  It’s true he suffered what was described as a “very serious” dislocated hip in training camp last July which resulted in surgery and him missing 12 games in 2013.  It’s also true he’s not considered to be a very good blocker, the Ravens signed another tight end this off-season in Owen Daniels and that he’s caught more than 40 passes in a season only once in his career and has never had a 700-yard receiving season.

Ever since Pitta signed a 5-year, $32-million deal to remain in Baltimore in May, his naysayers have taken every opportunity to mention his flaws.  I’ve chosen to completely ignore them.

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t speculate on the injury Pitta suffered or his recovery over the last ten months.  What I do know is he looked pretty good when he returned to the Ravens late last year.  In fact, over that last four weeks of 2013 after returning from the injury, he averaged five catches per game for 42 yards, numbers that probably aren’t very impressive to most dynasty owners looking for a TE1 going into 2014, but when you consider he only played 163 of the Ravens’ 302 (54%) snaps over those four weeks, those numbers start looking much better.

Like I said, I’m not a doctor and have no idea if Pitta will stay healthy in 2014 or beyond.  What he did at the end of 2013 proved to me he’s well on his way to being 100%.

As far as Pitta’s poor blocking and the Daniels signing goes, dynasty owners shouldn’t be the least bit concerned.  Over the last two seasons, 68% of Pitta’s routes have been run out of the slot and 71% of his targets have come from those routes.  Daniels was brought in to be the in-line, blocking tight end and will have little effect on Pitta’s playing time or effectiveness in the offense.

That brings us to Pitta’s production to this point in his career.  Let’s take a look at his numbers (including the post-season) since becoming a big part of the Ravens’ offense in 2011.

chartone

The two statistics that stand out here are the consistent targets Pitta has received over the last two years and the 2.82% career drop rate.  The relationship Pitta has with Joe Flacco is also worth mentioning and has been well documented.  He’s Flacco’s security blanket on third down and should continue to be his go-to target in the red zone.  The trust he’s built with his quarterback as well as Pitta’s outstanding hands and ability to make catches in traffic should all but guarantee his targets go up in 2014.

Now let’s look at the production that tight ends under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had over the last six seasons while he oversaw the Houston offense.

charttwo

As you can see, Kubiak has featured the tight end in his offense consistently.  Over the 93 games he was in charge of Houston’s offense on this graph, Texans tight ends were targeted 7.58 times per game and caught more than five passes per contest.  They were also featured regularly around the goal line, catching 41 touchdowns over those games.  The numbers are quite similar during his tenure as offensive coordinator in Denver where he featured Shannon Sharpe among many others.

Kubiak has mentioned on multiple occasions since being hired to run the Ravens’ offense how excited he is to have the opportunity to work with Pitta.  His reputation of highlighting tight ends along with Pitta’s pass-catching skills should be enough to make dynasty owners salivate when considering Pitta’s upside over the next few seasons. Pitta has the potential to be a top-five dynasty tight end for the next handful of years.  He turns 29 in June, but is just scratching the surface of what he can do for fantasy owners.  At an ADP of 88, he may be the best value among tight ends in startups.

Jeff’s Argument for Jason Witten

Death, taxes, and TE1 level scoring output from Jason Witten.  Ten years ago, I read that phrase printed on a slip of white paper inside of a fortune cookie.   I wish I hadn’t crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash with my uneaten fried rice and dirty chopsticks.  Had I instead taken heed to the prophecy, I would have enjoyed an entire decade of top end production for my fantasy team at the tight end position.  I’m joking, of course, but my point here is Witten is about as reliable of an asset as has ever existed in fantasy football.   The table below will illustrate that point precisely, showing how good he has been throughout an 11-year career during which he has only missed a single regular season game (in his rookie year).

chart3

As I’ve written before, there is inherent and often underappreciated value in having solid and dependable production on your roster.  It allows an owner to take a little bit of extra risk at other positions in their lineup which is especially important when it comes to the volatility of wide receivers and running backs that generally populate a flex role. Dynasty football is difficult enough as it is!  Don’t waste energy chasing potential everywhere on your roster when you have a Ronco Rotisserie set-it-and-forget-it option at your fingertips, especially one which is currently available at a discount.  As you can see in the table above, Witten’s ADP in the off-season has always been closely correlated with his production in the preceding year.  That is, until this off-season where he is currently being taken as the 14th tight end off the draft board.

The previous point about reliability isn’t exclusive to Witten, however, as Pitta could be equally productive on a consistent basis in Gary Kubiak’s offense.  The operative phrase there though, in my opinion, is “could be.”  In a best case scenario, Pitta (who turns 29 this summer) becomes what Witten (who turns 32 this summer) already is and, given the age differential, does it for a few years longer.  Currently, Pitta is signed through the 2018 season while Witten’s deal expires after the 2017 season when he’ll be 35 years old.  That might sound old but it’s really not for an NFL tight end who relies much more on precise route running in the short and mid-range passing game rather than speed and explosiveness to work their way down field.  In 2013, the recently retired Tony Gonzalez posted numbers good enough to make him the overall TE2 in fantasy football at the age of 37.  Thus, I think prematurely giving up on or expecting a major decline in Witten’s production is a mistake.

On the flip side, I have a hard time arguing against Pitta and I can’t directly refute anything Dan mentioned above in his side of the debate.  Pitta’s recovery from a fractured and dislocated hip was borderline miraculous in the timeframe it happened and he looked to have regained his chemistry with Joe Flacco from the moment he set foot back on the field.  For me, it comes down to a series of unanswered questions which make me skeptical of relying upon Pitta to be the TE1 of my dynasty team.  Will his hip hold up in the long run or is he at risk for re-injury?  Is he at risk for avascular necrosis a la Bo Jackson?  Is Kubiak planning to feature him or will he split snaps and/or targets with the recently signed Owen Daniels?  With Torrey Smith and Steve Smith now manning the outside and in Kubiak’s historically run-heavy offense, what is his realistic ceiling for fantasy production?  If the answers to all of those questions break Pitta’s way, there is no doubt he is definitely capable of producing at the level Dan suggests.  However, in the case of this debate, I prefer to stick with the ancient Chinese proverb and roll with the known commodity in Witten so I can take a little bit more risk elsewhere on my roster.

Conclusion

The crux of this debate seems to come down to risk tolerance.  Dennis Pitta may very well end up becoming a top five or six fantasy tight end for the next several years as there’s no doubt he possesses the talent to do so.  The risk, of course, is primarily associated with the unknown future of the Ravens offense and, to a lesser extent, his health.  On the flip side, Jason Witten has been as steadily productive of a fantasy asset as there has ever been so the only risk there is how much longer he is capable of playing at a high level.  Perhaps the solution to this debate comes down to the makeup of the rest of your roster or maybe it just comes down to plain old personal preference.

Who would you take if given the choice? Follow us on Twitter @dmeylor22 and @jefeberan and let us know!

Dan Meylor

Dan Meylor

Senior Writer at Dynasty League Football
Dan is a jack of all trades but master of none.He has far too many hobbies (including writing the article you just read), is a die-hard Packers fan and can't wait to introduce his young son to fantasy football.Dan is a true believer that being a daily league player will make you a better dynasty owner.

Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
Dan Meylor

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Joe Roads

    May 3, 2014 at 7:09 am

    This article couldn’t be written at a better time considering that I have both Witten and Pitta on my Dynasty team.

    • Jim

      May 3, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      I agree. I have Witten and Pitta is available in our free agent draft this fall. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth keeping Witten or maybe picking up Pitta and taking a chance on him over the next 3 year period. Any advice. It’s a straight up td league. Love Witten But am starting to look to the future and feel Pitta would be a good bridge option for the next 3 to 4 years.

      • Dan Meylor

        May 3, 2014 at 7:02 pm

        Can you do both Jim? If you can hold onto Witten and add Pitta in free agency, you’ll be in good shape for at least a couple seasons.

        If you have to choose one or the other, I’d obviously take Pitta. After all, I did just write 700+ words why I prefer him. :)

        Good luck!

        • Jim

          May 3, 2014 at 8:03 pm

          Actually, my plan if I decide to move Witten is try to get Pitta and then draft Escobar for the future. I think Escobar could be the next Witten in a couple of years.

    • Dan Meylor

      May 3, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      I think you’re in a great position Joe. Witten and Pitta are an excellent 1-2 punch. You shouldn’t have to worry about the TE position for the next couple years. You have two top-ten guys.

      • Joe Roads

        May 4, 2014 at 5:51 pm

        I appreciate your advice Dan. And, I do feel fortunate that I have both. I took over my Dynasty team back in 2012 & Witten was the TE that I inherited. That off-season before the 2012 season began, I traded for Joe Flacco, Ed Dickson & Dennis Pitta. I think I gave up Matt Cassel and Kendall Hunter. So, I obviously made out.

        My question is, since my only three TEs are Witten, Pitta, & Dickson, should I target a rookie TE in the draft? (I have a 3.04 & 3.12) & I was thinking of dropping Dickson and replacing him with a rookie. (TE or other). And, who would you suggest?

        Thank you for your well timed article. I enjoyed your insight as well as all the other comments.

        • Dan Meylor

          May 5, 2014 at 6:32 am

          Hi Joe. I think you’re on the right track. I’d be fine letting Dickson go at this point in favor of a young TE with promise.

          Most likely you’ll miss the boat on the three best tight ends in your rookie draft if you wait until the third round but there is other talent at the position. Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas and Oregon TE Colt Lyerla are both names to watch for during the NFL draft. They could take time to develop but have low end TE1 upside in my opinion. Iowa TE CJ Fiedorowicz is another one that will be drafted and may develop into a fantasy asset. I like his big frame and ball snatching ability.

          You should check out @TheFFGhost’s fantasy draft board if you haven’t yet to scout out these guys. It’ll be worth your time on draft day. Good luck!

          • Joe Roads

            May 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

            Shhh. Lol. I don’t want to give my pick away but, I have scouted with my 3rd round picks in mind. I’ll just say that I do have a particular TE in mind who I believe can certainly compete with the talent of Eric Ebron. I think you know who I am referring to. I won’t say now but, I’ll let you know if I end up picking him in a couple of weeks. (That is IF I draft a TE at all.) 😉

            I am curious about your thoughts regarding Niklas. It appears to me from my scouting that his size and potential is very intriguing. Do you feel he is too good of a blocker to have fantasy relevance?

          • Dan Meylor

            May 6, 2014 at 9:13 am

            That’s a great observation but I think you may be taking his skills as a blocker as fantasy weakness rather than a strength which may be a mistake. You’re right, hes an excellent blocker. But Rob Gronkowski may be the best blocking tight end in the league and that doesn’t slow his production, especially in the red zone. Don’t get me wrong, Niklas is not Gronk, but being a great blocker leads to being on the field a lot and can help make a tight end an excellent play-action receiver which can be great to have around the goal line. I think Niklas is worthy of a third round pick in many rookie drafts, especially if he’s drafted somewhere that likes to feature the tight end and the play-action passing game.

          • Joe Roads

            May 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

            Hi Dan!

            I just wanted to give you an update on how my Dynasty Rookie Dragt went. I’m actually still participating in it as we are in the final round and I have one more pick remaining in the fourth round. It’s a 4.07 and I have a hand full of players targeted mostly WRs at this point.

            But, the big news is that I was able to trade up into the first round to get a 1.11 pick. And, that’s when I chose to draft Austin Seferian-Jenkins! Eric Ebron was not available as he was taken at #6 overall. But, even if he was available I still would have opted for ASJ.

            That said, I wasn’t finished with the TE postion yet. After drafting QB Derek Carr at 3.04 and RB Lorenzo Taliafero at 3.08, I had my sight set on one more TE at the end of the third round. And, with my 3.12 I selected Colt Lyerla!

            So, needless to say I am ecstatic about my rookie draft this year! With my two new rookie TRs behind Witten & Pitta, I feel pretty good about the future of my dynasty teams TE position for now and years to come!

            Thank you for the advice and have a great season this year!

  2. hisler

    May 3, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Witten is a very physical tight end. Hes a monster but eventually it will catch up to him. This makes me think that the risk of injury is pretty much the same. An aging player who hsnt had it easy over the years, versus a slightly younger guy coming off an injury. And if the cowboys somehow come up with manziel or another qb in the not so distant future, will Witten be the favorite that hes always been? I think Flacco has a bit more in him than romo.

  3. MarkinMI

    May 3, 2014 at 10:34 am

    I don’t think there’s any question which TE is going to be a better week in/week out scorer. That’s Witten. He plays in the better offense and has a higher ceiling. If I’m i contender i want Witten easily. If I’m in a rebuild i might trade Witten for Pitta AND another piece but head to head, mano-a-mano Witten wins imo.

  4. fffool

    May 3, 2014 at 10:35 am

    I take Witten, with little reservation.

    There is only ONE Gonzo, but it’s a proven fact that Witten is the genetic mutant that spawned the X-Men. I’m confident Witten will be around (and near-elite) for awhile, & less so about Pitta’s health.

    -I’ll take Witten’s proven (900/9000/50) stat line over Pitta’s 120/1120/11 “upside” gamble. Pitta’s high TD rate is enticing, but there are a lot more questions than answers to his situation.
    -Witten (6’6, 260) is bigger and stronger than Pitta (6’4″, 245).
    -Witten will be targeted more than Pitta & Daniels combined, and won’t be sharing those targets. I guess there’s upside if Daniels is gone after 2014, but I’m not at all sure that’ll be the case.
    -Romo throws a lot more TDs than Flacco (153 to 121 since 2008), has a higher completion percentage, and (especially with the Linehan hire), Dallas WILL be throwing the ball WAY more than Baltimore.

  5. Hell Atlantic

    May 3, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Scott Linehan has never had a TE put up great numbers on his teams. Scott LinehAn is now the OC for the Cowboys. Do the math.

    • fffool

      May 3, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Yeah, well, Daniels WILL be siphoning off a fair number of Pitta’s targets, and it APPEARS Linehan has tried to involve his tight ends–none of which could hold Witten’s jock! Possibly, Linehan simply devalues the TE position, but I suspect the crummy teams he’s worked for drive the stats.

      Turns out Linehan has been blessed with some FINE tight ends since he came into the league, too–Jim Kleinasser (MN 2002-03), Jermaine Wiggins (MN 2004), Randy McMichael (MIA 2005), MY personal favorite, Joe Klopfenstein (STL 2006) and McMichael AGAIN in STL (2007).

      Linehan & Pettigrew both arrived at DET in 2009. Detroit TEs totalled around 100 targets each in 2009 & 2013 (9TDs last year), but from 2010-2012 Pettigrew alone had 110, 130 & 102, respectively.

      Romo to Witten has averaged 120 targets in the 10 years since Witten’s rookie season. I doubt 11 years of chemistry goes up in smoke. Besides, Stafford attempted 300 more passes than Romo in the last 3 years, and Romo is WAY more accurate than Stafford & extends plays like Big Ben!

  6. phantasy5

    May 3, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Great debate here gentlemen! I’d have to say I’m on the Witten side of the arguement though. I agree with alot of what was already said too! I think comparing either of these 2 to Gonzalez playing at an elite level until they’re 37 is ludicrious but respect your opinions. Although Witten has been a pillar of consistency and rarely misses games due to injury he’s still not Gonzo! In a PPR league Witten spells money as far as catches and yardage but not so much in TD’s on an average. Not the case for Pitta who’s a red zone TD machine. I do like them both, but given the choice I take Witten 9 x’s out of 10 over Pitta.

    • Dan Meylor

      May 3, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      You make a great point Phantasy. Perhaps the answer to which TE should be trusted lies in the rules to each particular league. In PPR leagues, Witten has proven to be a solid contributor. In non-PPR leagues, dynasty owners may want to consider Pitta for his red zone skills.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  7. Joe Roads

    May 4, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    If it might shed a little more light on the subject of targets for Pitta versus Daniels… As a diehard Ravens fan and an actual Baltimorian, my Ravens insider scoop has Pitta’s production going up and not effected by Daniels whatsoever. In fact, Daniels’ production will be the one that’ll take a dive as he should help spread out the coverage in Baltimore’s passing game. And, remember that Flacco and Pitta are best buds. And if you think that doesn’t have something to do with the amount of targets a receiver might get then you’re kidding yourself. Lol.

    Personally, I think Pitta and Witten will end up with similar fantasy production. The only difference will be that Pitta may have more TDs and Witten should have more receptions. And, because I am in a PPR league, Witten will probably be my starter. Just as he’s been the last two years despite Pitta’s presence on my team for the same two years.

    BTW, I also have Dez Bryant. So, I am very excited about the new OC in Dallas. And, concerning Witten’s production.. remember that he is and has always been Romo’s security blanket so, I honestly don’t think that will change this year regardless of who the new OC is.

    • eject1984

      May 5, 2014 at 2:15 am

      Maybe it’s just because i only had him in a standard scoring league, but Witten was pretty inconsistent last year. Yes, he finished 6th in scoring (PPR and standard), but he only had 5 great weeks and 10 fairly mediocre ones. Over the 5 weeks he averaged 16.4 pts (those were the weeks he had TDs), but the other ten weeks he only had 3.75 ppg – ouch!
      In PPR it doesn’t look much better: 22.4 ppg for 5 games, 6.3 ppg over 10 games.
      So end-of-year-score good, game-to-game-consistency, not so much.
      To conclude, in that standard league (8 keeper) I have the luxury to own them both and I’m definitely keeping Pitta. In PPR I’d also prefer Pitta.

      • Jeff Beran

        May 7, 2014 at 11:15 am

        This is a fair criticism but keep in mind Pitta’s best season to date doesn’t even exceed Witten’s WORST (non-rookie) season. The TE position is inconsistent in general so I don’t think this situation is unique to Witten. Just ask Jimmy Graham’s owners how they felt about his Week 15 performance last season.

    • eject1984

      May 5, 2014 at 2:26 am

      Meant to post it as a separate comment, not as a reply, sorry.

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