Dez the Upside Prevail?

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Fantasy Football drafts have begun, some have commenced, and others are approaching. Fantasy sites and writers across the world wide web are digging deep to derive their personal rankings, tiers, opinions, and tips to aid the industry. We all have our predesignated “studs” at each individual postion that we covet above the rest, and heated debates and arguments escalate these premonitions as the season approches. My focus today spotlights the wide receiver postion, particularly a certain individual who has blossomed into a star – to match the emblem on his helmet – as he enters his 4th season in the NFL.

I welcome you to unveiling of one of my largest man-crushes heading into the 2013 season, and the insight I will provide to lure your thoughts and perceptions to my level of thinking. Cue the entrance music, open the curtains, and attempt to avoid the blinding shine that Desmond “Dez” Bryant is illuminating upon the lanscape of the National Football League.

Playing for “America’s Team” – or most hated team as reality displays – is quite a daunting task. The media circles the borders of Dallas looking for any miniscule of gossip, rumors, or information they can embellish and turn into a derogative outlook. I personally do not care for the Dallas Cowboys, but I respect the talent within the organization. Many historic receivers have dawned the silver and blue including Bob Hayes, Drew Pearson, and the previous #88 Michael Irvin. Those are colossal shoes to fill when trying to make a landmark name for yourself and live up to the history that this team carries.

As the 24th pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2010, Dez entered the NFL as an immature, and selfish individual who had a lot to learn about carrying himself as a proffesional on and off the field. From feuds with a worthless rapper – despise Lil Wayne – to the domestic violence charges from the incident with his mother last season, Dez had displayed more personal issues than talent throughout his first few seasons. It has even reached the extent of the greatest sports idol in history reaching out to Dez personally. Michael Jordan has advised Braynt to “stay out of trouble” and it couldn’t have been more direct, simple, and to the point than that statement.

Bryant seemed to embrace those stern words by saying, “Hearing it come from him, he is a strong voice. His opinion matters.”

It shouldn’t have taken words from his Airness himself to realize this vague opinion matters. Bryant is one of the most gifted receivers in the NFL, and is still at the age where he can turn it all-around and prove his doubters wrong. I believe he is turning the corner and crossing the maturity bridge in his life, and the second half of last season exemplified what we can expect from a stout-minded Dez. Take a look at his stat-line across the final 8 games of the season.

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Even amidst Calvin Johnson pursuing history, and the Lions basically force-feeding him the football, Dez was able to accumulate the most standard fantasy points among any receiver in the league during that second-half stretch. Even more impressive is the finger ligament injury that nearly ended his season, and the fact that he avoided surgery and played through it with nothing short of excellence.

10 touchdowns is a solid feat by any NFL receiver, let alone accomplishing this across 8 games. Dez finished 3rd amongst receivers in standard scoring for the 2012 season, but imagine if the light bulb had clicked during the first-half of the year? It is scary to imagine the numbers that Bryant could produce if he is mentally and physically prepared thorughout the course of 16 games. I know, that seems to be the issue. How can we rely on a top 5 WR selection if he hasn’t proven he can sustain such consistency for an entire year? The upside that Dez brings to the field is unquestionable, and I think his career is reaching the point where he realizes that his focus and off the field antics cannot overshadow his play on the field.

The fact that Bryant barely cracked the top 40 receivers – points wise – during the first-half of the year, and was still able to finish in the top 3 is astounding. The Dallas Cowboys have been very inconsistent as a whole over the past few seasons, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Tony Romo is at the point in his career in which there is very little time left to waste, and Demarco Murray’s injury history leads us all to believe that he can’t be trusted as a workhorse back for an entire 16-game season. I’ve heard many intelligent writers exploiting the fact that Miles Austin is being overlooked at his current ADP, but having his type of talent stretching the oppsite side of the field only helps Dez from a fantasy perspective. Bryant’s career-setting monster game against NO in Week 16 yielded 9 receptions, 224 yards, and 2 touchdowns. During that same game Austin garnered 8 targets, 4 receptions, 45 yards, and a touchdown of his own. There is plenty to go-around in Big D, and I don’t believe there is anything in Dez’s path that can deter him from putting up immense numbers throughout the entire 2013 season – including opposing defenses- except himself.

Even through his troubles, Dez has been able to better himself and gradually raise his numbers across the board since his rookie tenure.

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As you can see his targets, receptions, yards, yards per reception, and touchdowns have all increased from year to year. Coming off of one of the most impressive stints I’ve ever personally watched by a wide receiver, why can’t this continue into his 4th year? I’m not an excuse guy, but you would have to think the legal troubles last preseason mentally carried into the year and were a detriment to Bryant during the course of the first few games. Dez is determined to put his issues in the past, and grow as a player mentally and physically as he approaches his prime. He has been openly working on his footwork and route running, and has set a personal goal of improving his endurance emphatically to stay at full speed throughout the course of entire games and the season.

Brandon Carr has even stated that “He’s working on all the little things in practice. He’s focused on the details and he’s getting better and better.”

Unless you’re Allen Iverson, practice tends to go an extensive way for players as they develop and improve on the weaker aspects of their game. Nobody has ever questioned Bryant from a pure talent standpoint, but if he is overcoming his immaturity, and polishing all the “weaknesses” he currently possesses, sky is the limit.

According to Pro Football Focus Dez finished with the 3rd highest WR Rating during 2012. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were the only players to rank higher, and they had Peyton Manning throwing them the football. Per PFF and their “Signature Stats” Dez ranked only behind DT as the most efficient receiver when it came to passes 20+ yards downfield. Bryant hauled in an exceptional 12 of 14 catchable deeps passes, and turned 5 of those catches into touchdowns. This type of dynamic, and explosive production cannot be overlooked. Consider the fact that Dez isn’t a one-dimensional player, and you have a guy that is capable of dominating all facets of the game as a receiver.

Bryant is a red-zone monster too, and trailed only James Jones and Decker in that category as well. I don’t expect an 8 game stretch like last season, but if he can stay consistent then double-digit touchdowns should be a given. Finishing 3rd in standard points behind Megatron and Brandon Marshall is an eye-opener itself as well, but take into account that Dez merited considerably fewer targets than the two players above him. Yes, I am gushing right now, but for the right reasons.

Calvin Johnson has been on a tier of his own for the most part over the past few seasons, but there are a couple players closing the gap, and Bryant is definitely one of them. If he can be as mentally prepared as he will be phsyically approaching the 2013 season, then I firmly believe he will easily finish as a top 5 wide receiver. I am going to boldly predict that he will finish no lower than the top 3, and am confident he stands a very capable chance of de-throning Mega as the WR1 by seasons end. Many will disagree with the love that I am showing Dez Bryant, and arguments shall arise as fallout, but I’m assuring you that #88 is going to match the STARdom and the prestige that his organization carries.

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