- Dan Graziano, ESPN New York Giants reporter
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In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.
(Last year: No. 15)
Oh, he's still got it. The emergence of wide receiver Dez Bryant as the top receiving threat in the Cowboys' offense may have obscured Witten's role somewhat, but he still finished fifth in the NFL last year with a career-high 110 catches and 20th with 1,039 yards. He remains one of the most reliable and consistent receiving threats in the league at his position, as well as a willing and effective blocker when needed and a veteran leader on the offense. He may only have caught three touchdowns in 2012, but quarterback Tony Romo looked his way more than ever before, targeting Witten 150 times as the Cowboys needed a short-range passing game to compensate for a nonexistent run game.
The interesting thing about Witten is that we can't know at this point what kind of year he'll have. Will he be the go-to guy at the goal line, as he was in 2010? Will he elevate his yards-per-catch average back up to the 11.8 range where it spent much of his career before dipping down to 9.4 last year? Will he catch fewer balls as the Cowboys run more and he's asked to help with that as a blocker or a decoy? Could be any of those things or a combination of several. The thing the Cowboys and their fans love best about Witten is that any of those outcomes is fine with him.
The rest of the rankings:
11. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys
13. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins
14. Evan Mathis, OG, Eagles
15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys
18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.