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Spotlight: Dez Bryant

posted by Steve Holloway on Aug 3rd


Steve Holloway's thoughts

Setting the Stage
Dez Bryant had a difficult and extremely challenging childhood. His mother was arrested for dealing crack cocaine when he was only eight years old and his father was not involved much. He eventually lived in eight different homes during the time that he was in high school in Lufkin, Texas. Nonetheless, he excelled as a wide receiver for his high school team and caught 53 passes for 1,207 yards and scored 21 TDs as a senior. He was regarded as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and was ranked nationally as the #9 wide receiver prospect in the 2007 class.

He attended Oklahoma State University, where he was immediately productive, catching 43 passes for 622 yards (14.5 ypc) and scoring 6 TDs as a freshman. In his sophomore season in 2008, he led the team with 87 receptions for 1,408 yards (17.0 ypc) and 19 TDs. His junior season was cut short as he was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season in October 2009 for failing to fully disclose his interaction with former NFL star, Deion Sanders. Prior to his suspension, he was widely considered the top collegiate wide receiver and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

Less than a month after his suspension, he declared for the 2010 NFL Draft. Even with his NCAA suspension, he was widely regarded as the top wide receiver eligible for that draft. He received an invitation to the 2010 NFL Combine.

His numbers from the combine were good, but not spectacular. He ran a 4.52 second 40-yard dash, broad jumped 11-foot 8 and had a 38-inch vertical. Despite his college troubles and the modest numbers he posted at the combine, he remained a top wide receiver prospect and was drafted 24th overall in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, who traded up to select him. He signed a five-year contract in July 2010 for $11.8 Million, with $8.6 Million guaranteed. His salaries for the next three seasons are very economical at $2.78M, $1.6M and $1.78M. He is slated to be a free agent in 2015.

His current career statistics provided below show improved production for each of his two seasons. The most outstanding aspect of his first two years is his penchant for scoring touchdowns. Despite the fairly good production, many expected Bryant to immediately become the most productive wide receiver for Dallas. However, Miles Austin has continued to be as productive as Bryant for their first two seasons together. Another consideration is the abundance of discussions about Bryant that mostly lean negative regarding his work ethic and willingness to study sufficiently to be comfortable with the full offense.

Year Gms Tgts Recs Catch% RecYds YPR TDs Rank
10 12 73 45 61.6 561 12.5 6 47
11 15 104 63 60.6 928 14.7 9 19
Totals 27 177 108 61.0 1,489 13.8 15

Looking Forward to 2012
Dez Bryant was arrested on July16th on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge for allegedly assaulting his mother. She subsequently decided not to pursue a case against her son. It is not known at this time whether there will be any discipline by the NFL or the Dallas Cowboys, but again there have been quotes from Cowboy's management expressing angst about Bryant's continued off-field problems.

The Cowboys hired Bill Callahan as their offensive coordinator and he replaced Jason Garrett, who had provided the dual role of head coach and offensive coordinator last year. Callahan was the offensive line coach for the New York Jets in 2011. The Cowboys could use his skills as their offensive line needs to be greatly improved. The Footballguys.com offensive line ranking by Matt Bitonti has them squarely at the bottom of the heap, ranked 32nd in the NFL. The Cowboys have long been a team that relies on quarterback leadership and the passing game. Tony Romo has consistently been a very productive passer for the team during his six years as their starter. The team seems to be content having their primary focus on the passing game. The chart below displays the play calling differentials between the running and passing games for the Cowboys over the past three seasons. Note that quarterback sacks are not included so the actual number of passing plays is slightly suppressed in this comparison.

Year RushPlays Run% PassPlays Pass% TotalPlays
09 436 44.2% 550 55.8% 986
10 426 42.6% 575 57.4% 1,001
11 408 41.7% 570 58.3% 978
Totals 1,270 42.8% 1695 57.2% 2,965

The Cowboys will continue to pass the ball and use their strengths. In addition to Bryant, they have Miles Austin at the other wide receiver position and Jason Witten at tight end. Each of these three players are capable of producing 1,000 yard receiving seasons. Their running backs, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones have neither shown the ability to remain healthy for a full season and that may also play a role for the team to continue to depend on the passing game.

Positives

  • Excellent quarterback play that is able to find the open receiver
  • Traditional focus on the passing game provides Bryant plenty of opportunities
  • Strong receiver (Miles Austin) on the other side of field and Witten at tight end reduces the persistence of double-teams
  • Lack of depth behind these three should maximize their playing time and opportunities

Negatives

  • Bryant's continued off-field distractions limit his ability to maximize his potential
  • Bryant's lack of motivation to perform as he is capable

Final thoughts

Dez Bryant continues to be a highly touted wide receiver that has not quite lived up to expectations. His current ADP is WR15 and 42 overall, but until he can move beyond his latest off-field activity, that ADP could drop lower and actually make drafting him more palatable. He must make amends with his team's owner as well as his teammates, but he is capable of doing that and more. He is definitely a player that you need to watch through the pre-season and do your best to read the signs to determine if he is properly focused or not.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Lott's Fingertips said:

Dez is an interesting case this year. His ADP is WR14, but he has the physical skills to produce as top5. This is the type of player that can win you a lot of games if he plays up to his potential.

I think Dez makes the jump to a WR1 this year, but not necessarily elite status due to having a smart QB that can distribute to multiple good receivers and Dallas presumably having a good running game with Felix and Demarco.

FF Ninja said:

People forget that Romo and Austin have some serious chemistry. If Romo, Bryant, and Austin are all 100% healthy, I think there is a greater than 50% chance that Austin > Bryant this year. I always hear about Bryant being a great red zone target, but he and Austin are both 6'2". Austin finished WR3 in 2009 on basically 12 games and WR12 with Kitna for most of the year in 2010.

There will absolutely be enough passes to spread around here as Dallas is pretty thin behind Bryant, Austin, and Witten so I'm not going to rule out Austin and Bryant both finishing as FF WR1s, but right now Bryant is a hard sell at WR14 while Austin is WR18. That being said, I'd be more than happy to wait and take them rather than take Welker, White, Green, Cruz, or Nelson a round or two earlier than these two.

fightingillini said:

Talent wise, the sky is the limit for Bryant. Can he stay healthy and focused? Witten is getting older and DAL doesn't have much depth behind at WR, so Bryant (along with Austin) will have a lot of opportunities to post big numbers. I am with FF Ninja in that taking Bryant or Austin a round later than Welker/Nelson/Cruz is the money play. I really like Bryant this year, as well as Austin. Currently his ADP is WR14, not cheap, but can he exceed his ADP? Absolutely.


Dez Bryant projections

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Steve Holloway721044800
Message board consensus7610461000