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Is Dez on pace to be one of the best: was Dez’s 2011 season on par with some of his great WR peers?

In lieu of Dez Bryant's off field issues last week, much has been made in the press regarding his potential and his progress towards becoming an elite wide receiver in the NFL. In order to quantify and provide an outline of the progress expected from an elite wide receiver talent, the performances of five premier receivers have been recorded. To limit the effect of small, quick wide receivers that play a different style than big receivers, all five wide receivers chosen for the study are physically similar to Dez Bryant with at least five seasons of experience:

Wide receiver

Team(s)

Height

Weight

First NFL season

Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

6'2"

220

2010

Andre Johnson

Houston Texans

6'3"

226

2003

Vincent Jackson

San Diego Chargers

6'5"

230

2005

Brandon Marshall

Denver and Miami

6'4"

230

2006

Larry Fitzgerald

Arizona Cardinals

6'3"

218

2004

Calvin Johnson

Detroit Lions

6'5"

236

2007

The statistical performance for each wide receiver in their respective season in the NFL was combined and the average compared to Dez Bryant's corresponding year. Bryant's rookie season compared favorably to the crème de la crème in the NFL:

Receiver/Group

Games played

Receptions

Yards

Yards/reception

Touchdowns

First downs

Dez Bryant

12

45

561

12.47

6.0

27.0

Group

14

39

576

14.77

3.6

27.2

Despite not playing as many games as the average great receiver of similar size in the NFL, Dez had significantly more touchdowns and a few more receptions. Bryant's second season, despite some obvious progress, however, was not as strong in comparison with some of the NFL's best:

Receiver/Group

Games played

Receptions

Yards

Yards/reception

Touchdowns

First downs

Dez Bryant

15

63

928

14.73

9.0

48.0

Group

16

77.8

1,132

14.55

8.2

52.2

The other elite five receivers in the NFL had a much greater increase in performance from their rookie seasons to their second seasons. Dez posted more touchdowns last seasons than all but Larry Fitzgerald (10) and Calvin Johnson (12) in their second seasons. Bryant also had better average yards per reception than all but Calvin Johnson (17.1) and Vincent Jackson (16.8).

But Dez is almost one reception per game (14.8) behind the pace established by some of the NFL's best receivers in their second season, and lagging almost 13 yards per game (204 total yards) versus the same group. Bryant has also failed to play all 16 games in either of his first two seasons. No other receiver in the group has this dubious distinction.

There are some non-quantifiable factors to take into account regarding Dez's second season. First (and not least) is the lock-out (termed "the great sucktitude" by one of the luminaries here on Blogging the Boys). The lack of an off season undoubtedly negatively affected Bryant's growth.

The second factor to consider is that no other receiver on this list had a receiver the caliber of Miles Austin starting opposite him. Whether Miles permitted Dez to face defensive coverages with less safety help, or lesser cornerbacks is debatable. Recently, Stephen Jones noted that opposing defenses treated Dez as the primary receiver in many games, placing their best cornerbacks on Bryant.

The third factor to take in account is that Dez is the only receiver on the list to not play football for almost an entire season in college or during his first three seasons in the NFL. Missing significant time his final season at Oklahoma State did not help Bryant make a traditionally difficult transition from college to the NFL. Bryant's rookie numbers, as noted above, compare favorably with other great receivers making the same transition.

Finally, this study can provide a statistical outline against which Bryant's performance in his third season may be evaluated. This season, Dez will have the benefit of a full off season, minimizing the effects felt the previous season.

Season (Group)

Games played

Receptions

Yards

Yards/reception

Touchdowns

First downs

3rd

14.2

68.8

901.2

13.10

4.4

46.2

Shockingly, the production of the afore mentioned receivers tails off in their third season. If Dez merely duplicates his 2011 effort, he will surpass almost all of the averages posted by the elite five receivers chosen. Only Brandon Marshall gained more than 1,000 yards (1,265 yards) in receiving yards in his third season. Marshall was also the only receiver mentioned that had more receptions than Bryant in his second season and increased that total during his third season (102 receptions in his second season, 104 receptions in his third season).

Considering the unexpected drop in statistics, Bryant should position himself as one of the best big wide receivers currently playing in the NFL. The following seasons (seasons four and five) for the group of receivers chosen show significant improvements.

Season (Group)

Games played

Receptions

Yards

Yards/reception

Touchdowns

First downs

4th

15.4

88.0

1,178.8

13.40

8.8

57.8

5th

14

81.2

1,228.8

15.13

9.6

59.4

Perhaps defenses adapted to the best big wide receivers in the NFL during their third seasons, forcing the great receivers to develop further. Maybe these receivers had a lull after many overachieved their second season. Every receiver save Andre Johnson in his 5th season exceeded 1,000 receiving yards during the fourth and fifth seasons. That would suggest that a big wide receiver takes more than three seasons to fully develop into a consistent threat.

If Dez Bryant belongs among these prodigious peers, his best seasons should be expected after this upcoming season. Considering that the fortunes of this Cowboys team could be directly tied to Bryant's performance, Dallas could still be a season away from contending for a Super Bowl.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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