As of today, gone are the pre-draft concerns that plagued Dez Bryant before ultimately being selected 24th overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Whether you believe the criticisms of his work ethic, maturity and decision making are justified or not, it is always safe to assume that those players at the top of teams’ draft boards will be the focus of NFL-style smear campaigns with the goal of dropping value or feigning lack of interest. After famously passing on Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL draft, you could be sure that Jerry Jones would not repeat history should Bryant have fallen to him, as he did.
Fast forward to today and those same criticisms have now been replaced with talk of the dynamic play making ability that saw Bryant, almost unanimously, as the top collegiate wideout in the nation. While not typical of our Draft Day Debate series of articles, in which we analyze and compare closely-valued rookies, the Austin-Bryant comparison isn’t without it’s own set of variables that make for an intriguing discussion and/or decision.
Austin – 26
Bryant – 22 (on 11/4/2010)
If you understand the WR position, you understand that most WRs fail to have a significant impact, if they have one at all, until their third NFL season. There are always exceptions, but this rule is well understood and followed by astute coaches in fantasy. Due to the complexities of the WR position in such areas as route running, speed, blocking, coverages and QB confidence, the belief is that it takes three years for a new NFL receiver to learn the ins and outs of the position to a degree where he can be successful on the field. Miles Austin falls into this category as well and is still only 26 years old. Few receivers ever break this rule to the degree that they are ultra productive in their first year. Randy Moss shattered it when he amassed a ridiculous 17 TDs in 1998. Bryant should see the field enough in 2010 at his young age to gain experience quickly and, potentially, be an exception to the rule.
Should he be able to capitalize on this opportunity, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could match the productivity of Austin early in his career. A lot to expect but Bryant’s age, situation and dynamic play-making ability should give him every opportunity to be successful prior to turning 24.
Slight Advantage – Bryant
Austin – 6’3″, 214 lbs
Bryant – 6’2″, 225 lbs
It would be easy enough to call this comparison a push, but I can’t. Bryant is a freakish looking receiver with a body that reminds me of a young T.O. He is well cut, long and lean and while relatively close in size to that of Austin, the eye test clearly goes to Bryant.
Advantage – Bryant
Austin – 4.47*
Bryant – 4.52
Austin’s speed is somewhat of a mystery as he has been clocked as low as 4.29 and as high as 4.60 in the 40-yard dash. His official 2006 combine time is listed as 4.47. Bryant’s timed speed of 4.52 was moderately disappointing but Bryant’s game is not defined by his speed as much as it is his sure hands, physicality and nose for the football.
Advantage – Push
Austin – 2006 Undrafted Free Agent, DAL
Bryant – 2010 Pick No. 24, DAL
Austin caught the eye of few scouts in his collegiate days at Monmouth, but to their credit, the Dallas Cowboys continued to follow Austin as he matured. The Cowboys had Austin listed as a raw sixth round talent and unofficially locked him up as a FA selection shortly before the 2006 draft had been completed. Bryant, on the other hand, was selected a disappointing No. 24 by the Cowboys, the end result of a frustrating and, no doubt, painful slide due to questions about maturity, work ethic and character.
Early projections had Bryant off the board in the top 10, many as high as top 5, before the slide occurred. The Cowboys get quite a bargain at No. 24. That said, Austin has an unquestionable position within the top ten of fantasy WRs in all formats. Our DLF ranking finds Bryant at No. 14 and No. 16 in our WR Rebuilding/Competing rankings (rankings that vary the value of a player based on your team’s current level of competitiveness).
Bryant is likely to begin the season playing behind fellow receiver Roy Williams but the writing is clearly on the wall and it is only a matter of time until Bryant supplants Williams as a starter. I fully expect that Bryant will also see significant time in three receiver sets.
But in all fairness to Austin and his productivity, you cannot give an advantage to Bryant here. Austin drafted position isn’t relevant given his current production.
Advantage – Unrated
Austin – 53 Games, 99/1,674/14
Bryant – 29 Games, 147/2,425/29
Another unfair comparison as NFL productivity will ALWAYS trump that of collegiate productivity. While Bryant’s productivity is noteworthy and certainly justification for a high selection, Austin’s productivity is largely as a result of an excellent 2009 NFL campaign where he amassed 81/1,320/11. It’s difficult to project a much better performance from Austin in 2010, but it would be no surprise should he match or even exceed last year’s results. In fantasy circles, the debate is whether or not there are enough balls to go around in Dallas in what should be a high powered and well-balanced offense. Austin will get his production and I believe the increased balance of attack will slightly lessen the numbers of Roy Williams, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant. Note that Witten’s TD production was well off previous years’ production and we expect that he will return to greater historical TD numbers, even if it may be with lower receptions from that of 2009.
Bryant’s game projects well into the NFL but if you have followed any of my historical draft analysis articles that compare drafted position vs. NFL productivity, you understand that the odds are initially stacked against him. This does not mean that Bryant cannot beat these odds, but the rookie WR position in fantasy is fraught with risk.
Advantage – Austin
When looking at the scorecard, it would seemingly be a landslide in favor of Dez Bryant. True that Bryant has most things that you look for in a young and potentially dominant receiver. You would be hard pressed to find a better physical package and collegiate production. Given that Bryant is only 21 years old currently, if he does become a top ten fantasy receiver, it is likely that he would be so for 12+ years, something that you just can’t get with the RB position. Bryant could make for a very intriguing selection at the top three rounds of your initial dynasty draft, whereas Austin will be taken in the high 2nd round.
But beyond all the promise, physical attributes and rhinestones in Big-D, Bryant is still a rookie WR that will need to adapt to his new life in the NFL – success is most certainly NOT guaranteed. The speed and complexity of the NFL game ultimately finds most collegiate receiving stars out of the league or unproductive all too quickly. WRs drafted into the NFL outside of the top 5 selections have an enormous bust percentage. With all of Bryant’s talent and tangible qualities, he was the 24th player off the board and the second WR selected, facts that don’t bode well, historically, for his future prospects. But nor does those facts condemn him.
Austin, on the other hand, is a quiet work-horse receiver that should have every opportunity to continue his productive ways for years to come. In fantasy, rookies often time steal the show when it comes to the draft, but established productivity wins championships. If you are lucky enough to assemble a team of young established players, you have a chance to create the elusive dynasty team. To that end, Austin is a “now” player that cannot be passed over for a “potential” player, whether you are competing currently or rebuilding. Austin’s age is the key factor here. At only 26, there just isn’t enough age differential to swing the balance.
It’s understood that a draft day debate of Austin and Bryant is an odd one in that it is likely that a choice between the two would take a rare set of circumstances, most likely in trade, keeper style format or, potentially, initial dynasty draft for those coaches that really desire building with “can’t miss” rookie talent. But in every format, under practically all circumstances, you won’t convince me that you should take Bryant over Austin.
If you find yourself with a choice between the two, you’re taking Austin and the points.
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