Player Points - Dez Bryant
By Chase Stuart
July 15th, 2010

Dez Bryant was the consensus best wide receiver in the draft, but he fell considerably on draft day. He ended up in the lap of the Dallas Cowboys, who didn't particularly need a wide receiver but couldn't pass up on the opportunity to draft Bryant. But Bryant brings about more questions than answers in fantasy circles. How will he perform as a rookie? What does this mean for Miles Austin? Will Bryant keep defenses honest or steal targets, or both? Was the Cowboys' decision to draft him a positive for the fantasy value of anyone besides Tony Romo?

Since the merger, there have been 19 instances where a wide receiver ranked in the top five in one season and then watched as his team selected a wide receiver in the first round of the following draft. How did the established player -- the Miles Austin for the Cowboys -- fare the following year?

Veteran WR
Year
Team
Gm
Rec
Yards
TDs
FPs
FP/G
Rookie WR
Marvin Harrison
2006
IND
16
95
1366
12
256.1
16.0
Anthony Gonzalez
2007
IND
5
20
247
1
40.7
--
Reggie Wayne
2006
IND
16
86
1310
9
228.0
14.3
Anthony Gonzalez
2007
IND
16
104
1510
10
263.4
16.5
Anquan Boldin
2003
ARI
16
101
1377
8
238.2
14.9
Larry Fitzgerald
2004
ARI
10
56
623
1
96.6
9.7
Rod Smith
2001
DEN
15
113
1343
11
259.5
17.3
Ashley Lelie
2002
DEN
16
89
1027
5
178.1
11.1
Marvin Harrison
2000
IND
16
102
1413
14
276.3
17.3
Reggie Wayne
2001
IND
16
109
1524
15
297.2
18.6
Jimmy Smith
1999
JAX
16
116
1636
6
257.6
16.1
R. Jay Soward
2000
JAX
15
91
1213
8
214.8
14.3
Cris Carter
1997
MIN
16
89
1069
13
229.4
14.3
Randy Moss
1998
MIN
16
78
1011
12
212
13.3
Rod Smith
1997
DEN
16
70
1180
12
226.6
14.2
Marcus Nash
1998
DEN
16
86
1222
6
208.2
13.0
Isaac Bruce
1995
STL
16
119
1781
13
317.3
19.8
Eddie Kennison
1996
STL
16
84
1338
7
217
13.6
Jerry Rice
1994
SFO
16
112
1499
13
305.2
19.1
J.J. Stokes
1995
SFO
16
122
1848
15
352.5
22.0
Gary Clark
1991
WAS
16
70
1340
10
229.0
14.3
Desmond Howard
1992
WAS
16
64
912
5
155
9.7
Andre Rison
1990
ATL
16
82
1208
10
221.8
13.9
Mike Pritchard
1991
ATL
16
81
976
12
209.2
13.1
Mike Quick
1983
PHI
16
69
1409
13
253.4
15.8
Kenny Jackson
1984
PHI
14
61
1052
9
189.2
13.5
Roy Green
1983
STL
16
78
1227
14
250.6
15.7
Clyde Duncan
1984
STL
16
78
1555
12
265.5
16.6
Roger Carr
1976
BAL
14
43
1112
11
198.7
14.2
Randy Burke
1977
BAL
7
11
199
1
31.4
--
Isaac Curtis
1975
CIN
14
44
934
7
156.5
11.2
Billy Brooks
1976
CIN
14
41
766
6
136
9.7
Fred Biletnikoff
1971
OAK
14
61
929
9
177.4
12.7
Mike Siani
1972
OAK
14
58
802
7
151.2
10.8
Marlin Briscoe
1970
BUF
14
57
1036
8
182.0
13.0
J.D. Hill
1971
BUF
14
44
603
5
114.1
8.2
Year N Avg
15.6
85.6
1293
10.6
238.1
15.2
Year N+1 Avg
15.1
77.9
1124
8.4
203.7
13.3

What can we take from this above list? It's hard to say, as the sample isn't particularly large. Reggie Wayne "improved" despite the Colts drafting a receiver in the first round, but that had more to do with Marvin Harrison only playing in five games in 2007. Jerry Rice jumped from 305 FP to 353 FP in J.J. Stokes' first year in SF, but that's Jerry Rice. On the other hand, Marlin Briscoe may have dropped off considerably after Buffalo drafted a receiver with the 4th pick in the 1971 draft, but it wasn't because of Hill, who had only 11 catches all season long. Gary Clark dropped from 229 FP to 155 FP, but he (in large part because of his quarterback) was almost certainly playing above his head during the Redskins near-perfect 1991 season. Generally speaking, we see that drafting a receiver in the first round doesn't need to spell gloom for the stud receiver already on the team. The drop from 15.2 FP/G to 13.3 FP/G -- in an admittedly small sample size -- was very small. The next step, of course, is to compare those wide receivers to players in a control group.

From 1970 to 2008, there were, by definition, 195 wide receivers who ranked in the top five in a single season. Eighteen of those were listed above, as they played for teams that then drafted wideouts in the first round of the following draft. Another seven missed more than half of the season in the following year, leaving 170 wide receivers who ranked in the top 5 in one season, played in at least eight games in the next season, and didn't play for teams that drafted a first round receiver. On average, those wide receivers went from a 14.7 FP/G average and a 119 VBD grade to a 12.0 FP/G average and a VBD of only 69 points. So compared to the control group, the wide receivers who played on teams that added first round wideouts look pretty good, as they fell from only 15.2 to 13.3, and their VBD scores dropped from only 124 to 86. This doesn't necessarily mean that Miles Austin is in better shape than if the Cowboys didn't draft Bryant; the sample size probably isn't large enough to draw that conclusion. But there's little evidence that Austin's value should *drop* because of what the Cowboys did in the draft. More often than not, players like him retain their value better than the average top-five receiver.

But what about Bryant himself? There were 17 wide receivers who went to teams with an established, top-five receiver (remember above that Harrison and Wayne counted twice for Anthony Gonzalez). Outside of Randy Moss, none of those rookies had huge impacts. For what it's worth, Bryant has been compared to Moss by many analysts, and it's easy to see the similarities between Cunningham/Moss/Carter/Reed to Romo/Bryant/Austin/Witten. But, once again, we need to compare Bryant to a control group. On average, the 104 first round wide receivers who did *not* join teams with a top-five receiver didn't do much better than those who did. They played in about one more game, and posted slightly better averages, but had a lower VBD score (likely due to Moss' huge impact on the small group). The full table, below:

Rookie WR
Year
Gm
Rec
Yards
TDs
FPs
FP/G
VBD
Anthony Gonzalez
2007
13
37
576
3
94.1
7.2
0.0
Larry Fitzgerald
2004
16
58
780
8
156.4
9.8
19.2
Ashley Lelie
2002
16
35
525
2
86
5.4
0.0
Reggie Wayne
2001
13
27
345
0
48
3.7
0.0
R. Jay Soward
2000
13
14
154
1
31.2
2.4
0.0
Randy Moss
1998
16
69
1313
17
268.2
16.8
127.2
Marcus Nash
1998
8
4
76
0
9.6
1.2
0.0
Eddie Kennison
1996
15
54
924
9
173.4
11.6
34.0
J.J. Stokes
1995
12
38
517
4
94.7
7.9
0.0
Desmond Howard
1992
16
3
20
0
4.9
0.3
0.0
Mike Pritchard
1991
16
50
624
2
99.4
6.2
0.0
Kenny Jackson
1984
11
26
398
1
58.8
5.3
0.0
Clyde Duncan
1984
8
0
0
0
0
0.0
0.0
Randy Burke
1977
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
Billy Brooks
1976
12
16
191
0
25.8
2.2
0.0
Mike Siani
1972
14
28
496
5
93.6
6.7
21.5
J.D. Hill
1971
5
11
216
2
39.3
0.0
0.0
Rookie Average
13.3
30.6
463
3.5
82.9
5.8
13.5
Control Group Avg
104 WRs
14.2
33.3
505
3.0
87.9
6.0
9.7

How do I read the tea leaves? Dez Bryant isn't in a worse position than the average rookie because he was drafted by a team with a stud wide receiver. Elite receivers may demand up a bunch of targets, but they're usually wearing the same colors as a very good quarterback, as is the case in Dallas. And that advantage more than makes up for having to share the load, in my view. Dez Bryant wouldn't be a more attractive fantasy option to me if he was the #1 WR in Cleveland. With Tony Romo throwing him passes, I feel pretty good about Bryant's chances.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to stuart@footballguys.com.

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