Drinking The Dez Bryant Kool-Aid
July 14, 2013 | Justin Bonnema
I just got back from the Kool-Aid stand and I have to say, what I’m sipping is delicious. You should try some. It’s called, “Dez Bryant Will be a Top-15 Scorer in 2013”.
It was quite good last year. It is even better this year now that it’s been seasoned with the subtle undertones of focus and maturity, and blended with aggressive flavors that will beat any double coverage.
Before you imbibe, I think it’s important to set the table with just how difficult being a top-15 scorer is for a wide receiver. Since the great realignment of 2002 only five have done it. The last one was Calvin Johnson, whose 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns were good enough for 11th in 2011. But even his record-setting 1,964 yards last year barely qualified him for the top 25.
So as you can see, this isn’t just a bold prediction; it’s an outright reckless prediction. I’m basically projecting Bryant to have some variation of 1,500-1,700 yards and 14-16 touchdowns—a stat-line that represents elite wide receiver seasons. Think Randy Moss circa 2007. That’s rare company, my friends.
Nonetheless, I can fearlessly say that Bryant is a rare talent, which he proved during the last half of last season. Make no mistake about it; he will receive plenty of attention from both quarterback and cornerback alike. Bracket coverage will be a mainstay for the next five or so years. But like Johnson, he has the skills to turn double coverage into mismatches and subsequent touchdowns.
So allow me to pour you a glass and challenge your palate. I promise that by the end of it, you’ll be coming back for more.
A Monster Is Born
We tend to get excited over extraordinary wide receivers entering their third season. Whether or not the “third-year receiver” has any actual value or predicable context is best left for another conversation. In any case, Bryant was hell-bent on proving it wrong in 2012, one way or the other.
The first seven weeks measured nothing short of disappointment. Save two touch downs against the Ravens in Week 5, he had been held out of the end zone and was averaging just 69 yards-per-game. It seemed the third-year receiver myth was officially debunked.
And then Week 8 happened.
In the most Tony Romo-est of games, with the cowboys trailing by five and 16 seconds remaining, Bryant made a spectacular, 40-yard grab between two defenders at the back of the end zone. Unfortunately, he was out of
bounds by one little finger (let the record show, had he landed in bounds, he would have surpassed Brandon Marshall as the second highest scoring receiver of 2012).
One finger—a fraction of a hand—is all that stood between what would have been a heroic victory and was instead a heart breaking loss—the kind of catch that forever would be floated about in watering holes from here to Estonia as one of the best in NFL history. A Folklore, of sorts, except with video surveillance.
In the weeks before that non-catch, Bryant registered seven dropped passes and was largely accused of bad route-running. He was also injured on the play and a non-factor in the following game (one catch, 15 yards).
But our romance was just beginning. In weeks 10 through 16, he accumulated 808 yards and recorded 10 touchdowns. It was during that stretch in which so many of us, especially those that took great joy in his ADP of 40, were finally vindicated. It was during that stretch that Bryant was targeted 64 times and caught 71% of them. It was during that stretch that we rode his decimation of secondaries to the fake playoffs and were rewarded with 224 yards and two touchdowns in the Championship game of Week 16.
And what’s even better is that this isn’t his ceiling. Rather, it’s an example of the complete receiver he can be. If we were to extrapolate out what he did in weeks 10-16 and apply them to… actually, forget that. Let’s stick to the tangible. Bryant finished as the third best receiver, catching 92 passes for 1,382 yards, 12 of which were worth six points. That’s pretty good and well within the expectation of a WR1.
So naturally, let’s up those expectations.
Optimus Prime vs. Megatron
If you’re going to use your first round pick on a wide receiver, you’re going to select Calvin Johnson. My intent is to not to dissuade you from doing so. My intent is to redefine your draft strategy and suggest that drafting a running back first overall, followed by Bryant, is a better strategy than drafting Johnson first, and then grabbing the next best back.
The truth is, comparing Johnson to any other player has little value. He is the threshold by which all receivers will be measured and predictably fall short of. Bryant fell short by 582 yards. He fell short by 62 targets and 30 receptions. But yet, he came within 14 fantasy points of outscoring Megatron in 2012.
All that changes if Johnson manages to break the plane a couple more times. But what doesn’t change is how similar their situations are. Both teams have erratic offenses and handicapped running games. Both teams have up-and-down quarterbacks and defenses that haven’t lived up to expectations. Both teams play in tough divisions in which neither is the favorite.
I briefly discussed how hard it is for a receiver to finish in the top-15. As you can imagine, it is nearly impossible for two receivers to accomplish such rankings in the same season. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 2003 when Randy Moss checked in at No. 9 overall and Torry Holt claimed 15th—a truly outstanding situation which is unlikely to be repeated.
Unlikely, but not unfathomable. The fact of the matter is Bryant and Johnson had completely different seasons but finished within a few points of each other. One had distractions and struggled early on; the other struggled to find the end zone. I see them both improving on their numbers in 2013, and feel perfectly comfortable by saying they will both land in the top-15.
I hear you Brandon Marshall. I hear you A.J. Green. I hear you analyst who’s reminding me that the Cowboys are going with a more balanced approach under Bill Callahan, focusing on 12 personnel, and that Bryant’s production will somehow suffer because of it.
There are plenty of good arguments designed to steer us away from drafting No. 88 considering his expense. Just remember this: he is more than just an obvious end zone threat. As clichés go, he can score from anywhere on the field.
Sure, we’ve seen what Marshall can do and there’s no questioning his value. The same goes for Green, who is as exciting a young player as any in the game. But Dalton is a far cry from Romo (and Stafford for that matter).
If you’re going to drink the wide receiver Kool-Aid in 2013, just be sure it’s one that doesn’t make you hit your head on the ceiling.