Draft Review: Jason Witten
Here's what NFL talent evaluators thought of Witten coming out of college in 2003
GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Jason Witten started only one year at Tennessee but still elected to skip his senior season to turn pro. This after making first-team All-SEC and first team All-SEC academic in 2002. Witten set a record with 450 career tackles at his high school in Elizabethton, Tenn., and covered kicks during his first two college seasons. But given a chance to start, he caught 39 passes in 2002 for 493 yards, setting school single-season records for the tight-end position. He was the only Tennessee receiver to catch a pass in every game that season. He had one catch apiece against Georgia and Mississippi State and both went for touchdowns. He also caught a 25-yarder for a score in an overtime victory over Arkansas. Witten then measured 6-5 1/2, 264 pounds at the combine. He ran a 4.67 40, bench pressed 225 pounds 25 times and had a vertical jump of 31 inches. Gosselin rated him as the top tight end in the draft, the No. 32 player on his Top 100 – a first round value. The Cowboys selected him in the third round with the 69th overall pick.
Here are some of the comments on Witten from 14 talent evaluators leading up to his 2003 NFL draft:
Receivers coach: Should have stayed in. Should be the most physical of the bunch.
Offensive coordinator: Disappointed. I didn’t see the athleticism and toughness I heard so much about.
Scout: Don’t like. Stiff and not very fast. Not a polished blocker. Should have stayed in school.
Personnel director: Thought he looked intimidated at the combine. They told me to look at his sophomore tapes but I didn’t get fired up about him. Good interview, though.
Scout II: Best looking tight end. Could be the first tight end off the board. Second round.
Personnel director II: High-school (caliber) blocker. For a 265-pound guy, sometimes he gets rag-dolled by guys smaller than him. But you put a tight end on the field for the receiving threat. Average hip explosion. He’s more of a smooth wide receiver without any separation from defenders.
Personnel director III: #1 tight end. Almost 270 and ran in the 4.6s (at the combine).
Scout III: Stinks on tape.
Personnel director IV: #1 tight end, a possible first-rounder. A safe pick.
General manager: Possible first rounder.
General manager II: #1 tight end.
Personnel director V: #1 tight end.
General manager III: #4 tight end.
Scout IV: Second-day draft pick (rounds 4-7).
NFL RESUME: Witten wasn’t Joe Montana … but he’ll still go down as one of the great third-round draft picks in NFL history. He played 17 seasons and retired in fourth place on the all-time receiving list with 1,228 catches – behind only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez and Larry Fitzgerald. Witten went to 11 Pro Bowls in his 17 seasons and set an NFL=position record (since broken by Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz) with 110 catches in 2012. He posted four 1,000-yard seasons, scored 74 career touchdowns and was voted first-team all-pro twice. Witten caught a franchise-record 18 passes in a 2012 game against the New York Giants and also won the Walter Payton Award that season as the NFL’s Man of the Year for his contributions on and off the field. He retired after the 2017 season to become an analyst on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” telecast, but retuned to the field with the Cowboys the following year. At the age of 35, he caught 69 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys. He played one final season with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020, catching 13 passes for 69 yards and two scores. He left having played more games (271) than any tight end in history. The only check mark missing from his NFL resume is a Super Bowl ring.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin resurrected his scouting reports here for a look back at how NFL talent evaluators viewed the top draft prospects coming out of college.