Jason Witten is maybe the most boring player I've ever had the pleasure of following.
I mean that as one of the best compliments I can give.
There's something about steady, not particularly aesthetically pleasing production that I love, and that's a great way of describing Witten. He's not fast. His routes aren't so much beautiful as they are inevitable. On the odd occasions he does get daylight and take the ball downfield, he looks more like a refrigerator falling downhill (while somehow staying upright) than the hyperathletic beasts of tight ends that is the generation behind him. I'm pretty sure I could outrun him. I'm pretty sure Ron Leary could outrun him, sometimes.
Yet, Witten somehow just keeps producing. He's fifth in the league in Expected Points Added among tight ends, which is a pretty major accomplishment given the flea market atmosphere surrounding this offense. His 51 receptions are also fifth among tight ends. Despite the fact that every route he runs looks like a three yard out or cross, he's averaging 11.2 yards per reception- just a bad spot or two better than his career average of 11.1 yards per catch.
This is when it's appropriate to note that Witten's 857 receptions are the most ever by a player in a Cowboy uniform, which is one of those stats that sounds more impressive than it is. I mean, it is impressive, but it owes a good bit of it's existence to the fact the league has gone super-crazy for the pass over the last decade, and super-crazy for passing to tight ends. Ultimately, though, what it means here is Witten's 11.1 average per catch over those 857 receptions is one of the most significant stats we can find, because there's probably not a single player with a larger pool to pull a sample from than what we have here.
All that said, Witten's 31 years old, and has played in 169 National Football League football games, and he's caught the ball 857 times. When he wasn't catching the ball, he was probably blocking a defensive end. He's a high-mileage model. And, in some aspects, it's starting to show. Maybe not in the catch totals (you can expect Witten's clockwork-like 80 receptions this season), and we've already covered that it isn't in the yards-per-catch total, but it's plain when you look at the efficiency.
Only 64.6 percent of passes thrown Witten's way this season are being caught (by Witten, at least). That's the lowest completion rate for Witten since 2007. Part of the problem is Romo's issues with accuracy this season (his completion rate is 64.2 percent, which sounds impressive given his career 64.5 average, but Romo's also only throwing deep on 15.7 percent of passes, which is much, much lower than his career average of 19.1 percent), but there's also the fact that coverage Witten would normally beat is starting to beat him. The San Diego game was a good example of this; Eric Weddle did a superb job on Witten several times, simply by sticking with Witten and beating him to the ball.
Witten's completion rate is good for 26th in the league among tight ends (second in the league is Anthony Fasano, who is one of the three second round picks Jerry Jones has taken since Witten was drafted to either replace or share time with the best non-Ware player Jones has drafted in the past decade). It should make you sad that there are 25 tight ends in the league that can feel like they have bragging rights over Witten.
Some day over the next ten to fifteen years, Witten will be inducted in the Hall of Fame and thousands of people will be mildly shocked that he wasn't there already. That's what boring production does. And that's why boring can be really, really good for a really, really long time.