If someone asked you to name the greatest tight end in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, your answer might depend on your age. If you’re a little younger, you’d probably say 10-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten. If you’re a little older, you’d probably say five-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion Jay Novacek.
But in the end, which one is better?
“Here’s how I do it,” Novacek said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “If Jason would come into the Cowboys when I was playing and playing at my best, he’d have a hard time beating me out. Now if I went back to the Cowboys with Jason in his era, and I was in the best shape of my life and playing as well as I ever have, I wouldn’t be able to beat him out. So if you’re a smart coach, you’d play both of us, right? That’s how you look at these things. Just like who’s the greatest team: You have to play like a nine-game series in order to really figure that out. We’d beat them, they’d beat us, but at the end, who would win the most?”
Statistically, the Novacek-Witten discussion isn’t very close. Novacek had 422 receptions for 4,630 yards and 30 touchdowns in 11 NFL seasons. Witten has 1,020 receptions for 11,215 yards and 60 touchdowns in 13 NFL seasons.
Advantage Witten – by a landslide.
Then again, the tight end position has evolved a great deal since Novacek was drafted in 1985 – and since he retired in 1996.
“I think it’s evolved from a lot of the rule changes that they put on the defense,” Novacek said. “Those guys can’t hardly touch you. They’re in a tough situation. So you get a guy that’s a lot bigger and stronger than a wide receiver and you’re trying to cover them with people that can’t hardly touch them. The success has been great. They’re incredible athletes. Those tight ends are amazing. The athletic ability that they have is just awesome to watch. Now you get in that blocking situation – none of us tight ends want to block. We just want to be a receiver. But that’s part of the game. If you have a good running game and you have that ability to move the ball and be more balanced like that, the tight ends, they have one of the hardest blocking jobs there because they have to block a little bit longer than most other offensive linemen.”