Fantasy Football Profile: Dez Bryant Isn’t Done
It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of Dez Bryant throughout his NFL career. In fact, I chose him No. 1 overall in a startup dynasty league prior to the 2014 season. He finished as the No. 4 wide receiver that season, his third top-six finish in a row. Things were great and he was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
You may scoff at that now, but Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first four seasons as a starter. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most among that time, and in fact, no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns. Since that time, Bryant has had two foot surgeries and the doubters are out in full force, saying he can’t stay healthy and that his 10.0 fantasy points per game in 2016 ranked 13th among wide receivers. Should you be one of the doubters or is this the time to buy?
Building Rapport with Dak Prescott
After playing with Tony Romo for his entire career, the transition to Dak Prescott turned out to be tougher than most expected, as Bryant and Prescott connected on just 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games, or 39 percent. As you’d probably expect, it led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. For whatever reason, this is what most are expecting out of Bryant.
If you ignore their first five games together, it could be argued that Bryant was better with Prescott than he ever was with Romo, and that’s saying something. Removing the Week 17 game where both Bryant and Prescott played one series, here’s what their final eight games have totaled (playoffs included): 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards, and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate, a far cry from the 39 percent over their first five games. It’s also important to note that his targets per game didn’t increase over this time, just his efficiency.
If you were to extrapolate those eight games over a full season, they’d amount to 225.2 standard fantasy points. The league-leader in 2016 was Mike Evans, who finished with 208.1 standard fantasy points. This is not to say that Bryant could continue that pace, but he wouldn’t have to in order to live up to his current 2.07 average draft position.
Better Downfield with Age?
As most players get older, their yards per reception tends to steadily decrease, but that wasn’t the case with Bryant in 2016. He finished the year averaging 15.9 yards per reception, the highest of a career by nearly a full yard (15.0 was his previous career-high). This should suggest that he’s not having issues with his speed, which in turn means that he’s not having issues with his foot, either.
One of the underrated points of the Bryant/Prescott success last year was the fact that they did it while averaging the third-fewest pass attempts (30.6 attempts/game) in the league. The reason this happened was because their defense played far better than expected. That isn’t going to happen this year, as they have lost three top players from their secondary last season. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr left via free agency, as did safety Barry Church. This will ultimately lead to more pass attempts for Prescott.
Looking forward to 2017, there are obvious reasons for you to get excited, but there is also some cause for concern. The Cowboys didn’t go out and add another wide receiver to play opposite him, but rather re-signed Terrance Williams and Brice Butler. It’s a concern because the Cowboys schedule is littered with shutdown cornerbacks, as he’ll see Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward, and Richard Sherman. That amounts to 10 games with a brutal matchup. I don’t doubt for a second that Bryant can overcome the competition in certain games, but you’d be betting against the odds if you think it’ll happen more than half the time.
If you looked at his two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 scoreless yards on 14 targets. The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets. Some will say that he did well against the Redskins last year, but they also didn’t use Josh Norman to shadow him. Going forward, the Redskins have made it clear that he’ll shadow clear-cur No. 1 receivers this year, which is precisely what Bryant is. So even though Bryant is being undervalued by the fantasy community right now, he’s being drafted right where he should be, but for a completely different reason.
If you’re playing in dynasty leagues, Bryant is a player to target after the first few weeks when they play the Giants, Broncos, and Cardinals. You’ll be able to get him for much cheaper than you should, and he’ll have gotten a few tough matchups out of the way. He won’t be 29-years-old until the end of the year, so you’ll likely have another three or four years of solid production. If you’re worried about Bryant, it has nothing to do with his recent performance, because he was arguably better than any wide receiver over the final eight weeks.
If you’ve missed any of the other Player Profiles that have gone up, you can see the full list right here.