Dez Bryant: Why Cowboys WR Is a Must-Start vs. Panthers Despite Groin Injury

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a 44-yard punt return against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Though a late-week addition to the injury report briefly put a scare into fantasy owners, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is expected to play despite an injured groin in Week 7, according to's Ian Rapoport.


Groin injury or not, I'm told the #Cowboys expect Dez Bryant to play Sunday. He will still test it out in pre-game warmups, though.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 20, 2012


This situation is obviously one that we need to monitor up until kickoff. Luckily the Cowboys game against the Carolina Panthers kicks off at 1 p.m. so owners will have plenty of time to find a replacement if Bryant's status changes.

Nevertheless, if Bryant is in the lineup on Sunday against the Panthers, fantasy owners need to jump on starting the wideout, as a career-best performance could be in the making.

Coming into Week 7, this season has been a slow build toward a massive breakout for Bryant. After inconsistent performances in each of the first three games, the third-year wideout has been fantastic in Dallas' last two contests, grabbing 21 receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

While in and of itself Bryant's statistics against the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens are WR1 territory, it's his new-found spot as Tony Romo's top target that should really excite fantasy owners.

In the Cowboys' last two games Bryant has been targeted by his quarterback an astounding 28 times. Fellow starting wideout Miles Austin in the same contests? Just 11 targets.

That's a marked shift from the first few weeks of the season where Austin had seemingly emerged atop the team's depth chart.

The overarching reason for that shift has to be Bryant's ability to catch almost every ball thrown his way. A huge, imposing possession threat, the former Oklahoma State star has a 71 percent catch rate on the season thus far.

Austin, on the other hand, is at just 59 percent.

That difference in efficiency should mean huge things for Bryant fantasy-wise against a questionable Panthers secondary. Through six weeks, Carolina ranks 19th in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 249.6 yards per game.

Though a respectable rate considering the Panthers' level of competition this season, they won't be in the Top 20 for much longer. Star cornerback Chris Gamble aggravated a shoulder injury on Wednesday and will be out for Sunday's contest, according to the Panthers' official Twitter page. 


News: Veteran CB Chris Gamble will not play Sunday vs. Cowboys:

— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 19, 2012


Losing Gamble will force Captain Munnerlyn into the starting lineup, but at just 5'8", head coach Ron Rivera surely will try to keep the smaller corner off Bryant as much as possible. 

Instead, Josh Norman will be tasked with covering the Cowboys' top receiver for most of the game. Considering Norman's limited effectiveness this season, something tells me that won't go well.

All of these factors add up to make Bryant an attractive WR1 to any fantasy team, regardless of his injury. Make sure he's not a late scratch, but feel free to deploy the Cowboys star as you regularly would in Week 7.