Dez Bryant is one of the most talented players in the NFL, but at some point in his career he will need to stop relying on his physical talent and grow into a more complete football player. This may be the year Dez starts making that transformation because everything being reported on him so far is giving me the impression that he is willing to work harder.
He is one of my favorite players, I love his style of play and raw emotion and my personal expectations for Dez are sky high. During the months leading up to the 2010 NFL Draft, there were reports coming out of Dallas that the Cowboys coveted the Oklahoma State wide receiver. I never believed for one-second that the Cowboys, who were picking 27th overall, would ever have a chance to draft him.
When he fell to us on draft night, it was one of the most memorable moments for me as a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. It's rare to see your favorite player in college end up on your favorite professional team, so that was a very special moment for me. It was also a special moment for Dez because being from Lufkin, Texas he grew up a fan of the Cowboys.
We have been waiting for him to put it all together and have a breakout season. The waiting me be finally over...
The offseason didn't start off positively for Bryant when he ran into some trouble while at a nightclub in Miami, Florida. The alleged incident that involved a physical altercation with rapper Lil Wayne set off a media frenzy that placed further emphasis on Bryant's immaturity and off-the-field issues.
Ongoing financial issues have also stayed in the news, but for the past few months Dez has kept a relatively low profile. Dez has a lot of growing up to do as a man, but also as a football player. Many have been vocal about his second-half performances and poor route running. ESPN Dallas reporter Calvin Watkins made some very good points in his recent article.
It's a joke that a big-play performer such as Bryant has just one 100-yard game his career -- none last season. Especially when 25 of his 108 career receptions have gone for 20 yards or more.
He's scored 15 touchdowns. We've seen him produce the spectacular catch. Or the catch-and-run that leaves us searching our vocabulary for just the right words to describe the play.
But he must become the master of the mundane to join any conversation about the game's best players. The best receivers make a 6-yard catch on third-and-5.
They make the correct hot read, turning a potential sack into a big play. They run the right route every time. They do all the little things to build a rapport and trust with their quarterback, so he knows he can look their way with the game on the line.
The fact that Bryant, a very good deep threat, has only one 100-yard game in his two-year career is very disappointing. The touchdowns are coming consistently, which doesn't surprise me because Dez will always be familiar with the end zone. But Watkins is spot-on with his assessment, Bryant needs to become a better all-around wide receiver. The little things such as a hot read, running crisp routes and securing clutch grabs have to start becoming a regular part of Bryant's game.
Watkins makes a great point about just how important is to become a better route runner.
Until Bryant consistently runs good routes, he'll be limited as a receiver and his production will be sporadic.
If he can grasp the route tree, his ceiling is limitless. When you think about just how dominant he has been at times, it's scary to come to the realization that he hasn't fully reached his maximum capability as a wide receiver. If Dez finally starts to run better routes, he could become unstoppable.
One area that he has been criticized for is the lack of hunger to become a student of the game. I believe that every great player needs to spend a lot of time in the film room. Preparation and study will enhance your abilities, but you must be willing to work at it. It has to be difficult for a player who has been a superstar his entire life to watch himself on tape and point out the negatives in his game, but that is exactly what Bryant is starting work on.
"Some of the game tape that I watched from last year, I wasn't really too proud of myself, and I know it's because of injuries," Bryant said. "I feel like this year, I'm spending more time focusing on my body and making sure everything is right."
Unfortunately, injuries are just part of the game. Dez has had his fair share of them during his brief career in Dallas. Maybe part of the reason he never broke out last season was due to an ongoing injury he suffered in the regular season opener. Dez feels like his performance suffered because of the injuries.
"I don't think I was ever where I wanted to be," Bryant said in a moment of self reflection. "It was just the injuries, my performance. I didn't feel like they healed quick enough."
Tony Romo has fantastic chemistry with Miles Austin and Jason Witten. I believe that Romo is still learning to trust Bryant, but when that trust is finally developed, we are going to see something special. Romo has been supportive of Bryant ever since the Cowboys drafted him. He has always spoken very highly of his wide receiver and emphasized that Bryant is one of the hardest workers on the team. Romo's recent comments continue to highlight Bryant's hard work.
"You get out there and watch him, he'll finish those drills," Romo said. "He'll run 30 yards after the catch. I'll tell you what, go watch him after a catch and see what he does. Play'll be over and he'll still be running 20 more yards. He's got a great upside. He's continuing to work his butt off, he's just going to get better and better every year."
Jason Garrett has one of the most talented offenses in the NFL at his disposal. He has a quarterback who can shred opposing defenses with a great tight end and very good wide receivers. The running backs are very talented and can also contribute in the passing game. But Garrett has a truly unique talent in Bryant that he also needs to gain trust in. I would like to see the offense run as a balanced attack, but we need to start involving Dez in the game plan more, if not, why did we even draft him? Dez has the potential to become a superstar wide receiver who can be one of the best at his position. Garrett realizes that Bryant has to work at becoming a better player and becoming more consistent.
"He's shown all of us that he's capable of doing a lot of great things on the field, but you have to do them play in and play out," Garrett said. "You've got to do them quarter in and quarter out, game in and game out. That's something that he, like a lot of younger players, has to get better at. It starts with practice."
If you play fantasy football, then you know about the "third-year wide receiver" myth. There are some statistics that show the third-year being the year talented wide receivers breakout. I actually believe in this theory because it takes time for a wide receiver to adjust to the pro level. Playing the position in the NFL requires a lot more professionalism and a workman like approach. Calvin Watkins makes his case a convincing one by pointing out how long it took some of the elite wide receivers to finally produce that big season.
Bryant is entering his third season, which is when most talented receivers figure it out and have a breakout season. Atlanta's Roddy White caught 29 passes for 446 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. Two years later, he caught 83 passes for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns.
Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants caught 47 passes for 790 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in 2009 before catching 76 for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Even Detroit's Calvin Johnson, currently the game's best receiver, needed some time to become a complete receiver.
He caught 48 passes for 756 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, and 67 for 984 yards and five touchdowns in his third season before his monster seasons in 2010 and 2011
All eyes will be on Dez Bryant in 2012. What are your expectations and predictions for him?