In case you guys can't tell, there are a few issues near and dear to my heart where the conventional wisdom reads one way but the reality is the opposite. I get pretty worked up about them.
This is one of them.
In the comments on today's scrimmage, I got in a small back and forth about Witten vs. Gates. Someone said something that triggered my radar, you see, and I had to clear it up. I'm going to go a little further, here. It was stated that Gates was on a "better pace" than Witten.
This is absolutely false. Now, there's no denying that Gates is a TD machine and I do not intend to argue the point. I believe this is strictly because of how Witten is used, but, regardless, I do not intend to imply that Witten is the scoring threat that Gates is... I concede that one.
But his reasoning was that Gates is only 100 yds behind on approximately 100 fewer receptions, so far. The implication being that when Gates has been used as much as Witten he will pass him. But that is actually the exact reverse of the truth.
The first thing to realize is that these two probable Hall of Fame TEs entered the league at the same time-- the have had precisely the same amount of time to compile stats.
The Second thing to realize is that Gates is two years older. This becomes important in a bit.
Then you must realize that Gates started off with a huge lead. In their first four seasons, Gates had 265 catches for 3378 yds while making the QB career of a young, pre-Saints Drew Brees. During this same time period, Witten played through a combination of Leafs, Hutchinsons, Bankses, Testaverdes, Carters, and Bledsoes awaiting the arrival of Antonio Ramiro Romo. He still managed 252 catches, but for "only" 2838 yds. In their first four years in the game, Gates opened up a 540 yard lead.
But things changed in 2007. Witten found a real QB in Tony Romo. Gates, for his part, continued to be the focus of a fairly elite passing attack, now led by Phillip Rivers. But Romo's ability and trust with Witten began paying huge dividends. Since the end of the 2006 season, Witten has never had less than 942 yards in a season, while Gates has exceed that number only twice.
Let me say that again. In the last 5 years, Gates has only two seasons better than Witten's *worst*.
In those five seasons, Witten has gone from 540 yds behind to over 125 yds ahead of Gates. Of course that's not really surprising because, production-wise, only consensus GoAT Tony Gonzalez's best five season run tops the last five seasons of Witten. Back on point, though, while Gates continues to score TDs at an alarming rate, Witten is absolutely shattering him in production as the years go on... and here's where that little throwaway second item becomes important.
People say Witten is slowing. But Witten is two years younger than Gates. Now consider this:
In their last two seasons, Gates has 17 TDs to Witten's 14. That gap is much narrowed.
In their last two seasons, alone, Witten has out gained Gates by almost 400 yds. However, this is not as much of a knock on Gates because Witten has also out gained every TE in the NFL over that time frame, and yes that includes both Gronk and Graham. (I cannot emphasize this fact enough)
Last year, Witten had 15 plays of 20 or more yards, tying Vernon and Fred Davis for 3rd place in the NFL. Gates was tied for 14th with 8.
Last year, Witten also had two plays over 40 yds, tying him for second in the NFL among TEs (with 5 other players). Gates tied with Martellus Bennett for last in the NFL with zero.
So, I submit that Witten is, in fact, on the better pace and has been for half a decade. And I expect the gap to increase as Gates is actually leaving his prime, while Witten has a couple years left in it.