Since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2010, Cowboys' receiver Dez Bryant has tantalized Cowboy fans and fantasy owners with flashes of his special abilities on a football field.
Few players in the NFL have his combination of size, strength, athleticism and ball skills, but it has yet to all come together for Bryant.
Based on a survey of general managers from NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, Bryant was voted the "biggest underachiever" in the league.
In his second season, Bryant set career-highs across the board with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. Although he had 10 games with at least 60 receiving yards, Bryant had no 100-yard games last year.
A Week 1 thigh injury last year lingered all season and affected his conditioning and performance, especially in the second half of games as his splits indicate. In fact, he missed Week 2's game against the 49ers due to the injury.
"It was very frustrating," Bryant said, per Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "But you’ve just got to get through things, get to the end the best way you can and try your best to get back on the field. Some of the game tape that I watched from last year, I really wasn’t too proud of myself [because he was hindered by the injury]. I know it’s because of the injuries, but I feel like this year, I’m spending more time focusing on my body and making sure everything is right."
Bryant scored seven of his nine touchdowns in the first half of games last season. In addition, he had more receptions (37 to 26) and yards (558 to 370) in first halves compared to second halves.
Earlier this offseason, things were going really well on the (practice) field for Bryant. At the time, he said (via Jon Machota of Fox Sports Southwest), "I see a big change in my weight, in my strength and everything. ... I feel way more explosive coming out of my cuts."
Much of the positive buzz that Bryant received this offseason came to a halt when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge involving his mother.
When it comes to Bryant, that unfortunate incident reminds us, including the franchise, of the potential for his off-the-field decisions and actions to interfere with his on-field performance. Hence the Dez Bryant Rules that are imposed on Bryant including curfews, limitations on establishments he can visit, around-the-clock security, etc.
Some may feel that the mere necessity of imposing these requirements tells you all you need to know about Bryant and that fantasy owners should stay away. [See Jones, Pacman]
For me, however, I feel this time is different (famous last words, I know). Someone other than those affiliated with the Cowboys (i.e., his adviser, agent, etc.) has to be reminding him of the potential payday if he puts it all together for one season.
Bryant is recovering from tendinitis in his knee that sidelined him for a couple of preseason games, but he practiced fully on Monday (via Pro Football Talk), and should therefore be ready to go for the start of the season.
When fully healthy, the Cowboys have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The presence of Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten give opposing defensive coordinators headaches as they have to prepare for the team.
With Laurent Robinson and his 11 touchdowns in the final 10 games of the season gone, Bryant should see many more targets in the red zone this year.
Strength of Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to wide receivers last year by all of the Cowboys' opponents this year, Bryant and Cowboys' receivers have the eighth-least favorable schedule from a fantasy perspective and fifth-least favorable in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16). The Cowboys face the Bengals, Steelers and Saints in Weeks 14, 15 and 16, respectively.
Bryant is going off the board as the 15th wide receiver, on average, in ESPN leagues, based on their average draft position (ADP) data, but he has the potential to deliver so much more. If everything goes right for Bryant, it wouldn't surprise me if he finishes as the second- or third-best fantasy wide receiver in 2012. Of course, there are a lot of ifs (maturity and durability) in that statement, but I believe he is worth the risk.
Projection: (Receiving) 68 Receptions, 1,125 Yards, 12 TDs
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