Cowboys Must Be Patient With About-To-Break-Out Bryant

On Monday morning, Dez Bryant was detained (not arrested!) recently after a scuffle and kerfluffle at a Miami nightclub. The timing was peculiar, insofar as it coincided with (but, strangely, didn’t motivate) several conversations about trading the talented wideout (if you're interested in following this non-story, go here or here) and questions about what Dallas might get in return (the short answer, according to Bryan Broaddus, who sent some inquiries into NFL front offices, where he still maintains strong connections, is "not much").

The Cowboys braintrust, specifically Stephen Jones, has been adamant that the mercurial receiver is not on the market, and never has been. Many fans, perhaps fed up with Bryant’s immaturity, or disappointed by his failure to live up to pre-draft hype that characterized him as ready-to-play version of Andre or Clavin Johnson, have voiced their displeasure with this public declaration. They cite sources who maintain that Dez has been fined repeatedly and extensively for violations of team protocol (he was late for the first team meeting after the lockout), and thus presents a distraction to the team (and from Jason Garrett’s message). Smells of WKG, don't it?

Even though I support Garrett's weeding out the WKGs from the Dallas roster, I must say that, for once, I agree with Stephen Jones on this one. In terms of the ol' eyeball test, Bryant improved his game in 2011; he ran better routes and seemed to have a firmer grasp of the playbook. Numerous reports circulated that he was working harder on his craft and beginning to "get it."

Beyond rumor and the eyeball test, we can cite statistically-driven evaluations. The fine folks at Pro Football Reference offer Approximate Value (AV) scores for each player, in order to measure his contribution to the team’s success; number 88 earned a respectable 7 in 2010 and and added to that last season, notching an 8. Pro Football Focus offers more specific evaluation, meticulously grading each play, a process that yields both single game and full-season cumulative totals. Bryant earned a 2.7 in his rookie season; in 2011, that ballooned to 12.2, the second-highest offensive grade on the team, behind Tyron Smith. These figures suggest that, in his two years as a pro, Dez is carving out a significant upward curve, and I think this is likely to continue, such that he breaks out in 2012.

See why after the jump...

To support this claim, I’d like to direct your attention to a recent study published at Football Docs. In what is ostensibly an article about fantasy football strategy, they take a look at all receivers selected in the 1998-2008 drafts, marking their breakout years. As their charts demonstrate, some guys, like Randy Moss in 1998 or Anquan Boldin in 2003, made an immediate splash. But they are the exception; the majority of wideouts, the Football Docs discovered, break through in year three. Here's the year in which most guys "broke out":

1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
6 19 27 13

While it may be true that Dez's psychological makeup or strange over-competitiveness will prevent him from realizing his potential, a strong historical precedent suggests that he is on the cusp of doing so--many Hall of Fame caliber wideouts haven't become the man until year three or four. Lets take a look at an admittedly small smattering of examples (I chose them because of the striking similarity of their early careers), comparing them to Bryant's two-year stat line:

1st Year Yds/ TDs 2nd Year Yds/ TDs 3rd Year Yds/ TDs
Dez Bryant 561/ 6 928 / 9 ???
Terrell Owens 520/4 936/8 1097/ 14
Steve Largent 705/ 4 643/ 10 1168/ 8
Greg Jennings 632/3 920/12 1292/9

Pretty comparable. It's important to remember that NFL receivers often take several years to develop; this is particularly true of players, like Dez, who rely on superior athleticism to dominate at the collegiate level.

The moral of this story: for every Drew Pearson, who met with early success (he broke out in his second season, with career highs in catches and yards), there is a Michael Irvin, who didn’t break out until his fourth year (he's joined, more recently, by Colts stalwarts Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, both of whom got over the hump in year four). What do they have in common? All were perennial All-Pros, and a couple of them should join Irvin in the Hall of Fame. That potential is simply too potent for the Cowboys not to be patient with the kid. I'm willing to be, I know that...

What think ye, BTBers? Is Dez is on his way to join this illustrious company, or is this another of Ol' Rabble's hallucinations?

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