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Is Jason Witten’s Replacement Already On The Cowboys Roster?

JasonWitten

The Cowboys offense exists to create fantasy points. It certainly doesn’t exist to win football games, that much is for sure. Tony Romo has been an underrated fantasy option, finishing QB2, QB12, QB5, QB7, QB8 and QB10 in his mostly healthy years. The offense, regardless of coordinator, has made WR1’s out of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, and created Laurent Robinson as a legit WR2. Even Jason Witten, who has seen his efficiency decline, has stayed a TE1 by being in the offense with Romo and Bryant. But Witten isn’t going to be around forever and as a 32 year old tight end, it’s not unreasonable to add injury risk to age related decline.

Historically, new coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense hasn’t used a tight end much (the best season was produced by Randy McMichael), but the sheer volume it creates will provide opportunity for the tight end in Dallas as they lack a proven slot option. Look at Linehan’s pass attempts rank per year.

Passing Off
Year Tm Att
2002 MIN 13
2003 MIN 15
2004 MIN 8
2005 MIA 10
2006 STL 3
2007 STL 9
2008 STL 15
2009 DET 6
2010 DET 3
2011 DET 1
2012 DET 1
2013 DET 5
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2014.

I am positive that there will be countless Linehan pieces that talk about his impact on Romo, Demarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten. But I’d like to use a deeper look at Gavin Escobar and James Hanna to see if either are worth buying low in dynasty.

College Production

escobarhanna

Advantage: Escobar. Big time. Hanna played behind college phenom Jermaine Gresham for a while at Oklahoma, while Escobar was featured in the offense at San Diego State University. As I wrote in this piece, college production is pretty important for tight ends as athletic marvels who make football rosters as tight ends but end up doing nothing are a dime a dozen. For every Julius Thomas or Ladarius Green there is a Dorin Dickerson. If we’re just looking at it from that lens, Escobar seems the more attractive prospect.

Athleticism

Name Height Weight 40 Yard Speed Score Bench Press Vert Leap (in) Broad Jump (in) Shuttle 3Cone Agility Score WT-ADJ Agility Freak Score
Gavin Escobar 78 254 4.84 93 12 32 114 4.31 7.07 11.38 1.163 60
James Hanna 76 252 4.43 131 24 36 122 4.11 6.76 10.87 1.859 98

Advantage: HUGE to Hanna. Escobar is a nice athlete and all, but on a scale of 1-100 in the Freak Score, Hanna scores a 98, tied with Stephen Hill and only 2 points shy of Calvin Johnson (note: the Freak Score model is trained on WRs, not TEs. Although in this case it does show how freakish Hanna is). Whether you choose to value this information is sort of up to your personal fantasy football philosophy, but I think that it shows a clear separation as to what the guys can do on the football field.

Verdict

Looking at usage last year, Hanna actually played as the 2nd tight end behind Witten more than Escobar did, which was a little surprising. PFF graded both of them as negative run blockers, and that will eventually factor into the decision making of the Cowboys staff.1 Both of them should be close to free in dynasty start ups and probably are on your waiver wire right now. Witten has 2 years left on his contract, but by spending draft equity on both Hanna and Escobar, it’s clear the team realizes his days as a main cog in a productive passing offense are numbered. If I had to choose, I would take Hanna, but in reality, I will probably let price dictate the choice. Regardless, they are both players to watch in terms of training camp blurbs and snap count during the season.

  1. Probably. Who the hell knows what lives in Jason Garret’s head  (back)

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