Recent ESPN reports out of the Dallas Cowboys' minicamps are saying that Tony Romo is absolutely loving the work Dez Bryant is putting in. He's been given the right to wear the legendary No. 88 jersey given to former Cowboy greats Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin.
Yes, Dez has had maturity issues. He hasn't posted 1,000 yards receiving in either of his two pro seasons, and he's disappeared late in games.
But I'm not so sure this isn't a classic case of the third-year breakout. At 6'2," 218 pounds, he's a terror to tackle, and fast for a man his size, running around a 4.52 40-yard dash. He's got unbelievable hands, and is great in the red zone. Stephen Jones already thinks he, and not Miles Austin, should be the No.1 receiver.
He had 928 yards and nine touchdowns in just 15 games last year, despite playing with a thigh bruise that lingered throughout the season. Now, Miles Austin is finally healthy, and will provide a great threat opposite Bryant. Laurent Robinson—the apple of Romo's red-zone eye last season—is gone. Jason Witten is still around to take up space in the middle, opening up the edges and seams for Austin and Bryant.
More importantly, DeMarco Murray looks like he's the real deal at tailback, and the Cowboys have lacked a consistent running game throughout Bryant's entire NFL career. If they can provide that balance and keep linebackers honest, that can open up the lane for Bryant to make some plays in the screen-game.
Let's take a peek at his schedule.
Which cornerbacks can matchup with a healthy Dez in that division? The Giants just lost their biggest cornerback, Aaron Ross, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Redskins didn't do much to beef up their secondary, and I'm not sold that Nnamdi Asomugha can bounce back unless they go back to a man-scheme in Philadelphia.
The knock on Bryant is that his route-running isn't polished. He didn't have a full offseason last year due to the lockout, and wasn't mature enough to handle it in his rookie season. He's had No.2 Fantasy numbers entirely off of talent, but now he's going to get acclimated to the NFL game, understanding its nuances much better.
With no real No.3, I expect Bryant to be among the league leaders in targets, and turn in a breakout year.