If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching Dez Bryant practice you can tell that football is extremely important to him. Everyone knows that Dez is an extremely passionate player, but few mention the type of leader he truly is.
Dez has never done anything in his life halfway, it’s full speed no matter the circumstance. He leads in a way very similar to the Cowboys’ Hall of Fame receiver, Michael Irvin. When you look at this team with the camaraderie they built last season, the commitment they’ve all made to team football, it’s got Dez’s imprint all over it. He’s led the charge, creating an incredible bond with his teammates and he’s on the verge of something even more special.
It’s no secret that Dez Bryant hasn’t been his dominant self over the past two seasons. After signing his “Cowboy For Life” extension, he broke his foot in week one of 2015. Though he returned after six weeks, he just didn’t have the same effectiveness, only occasionally looking like his old self. In 2016, he had to miss three games with a hairline fracture in his knee. About a month ago, our own Joseph.Hatz wrote about how Dez Bryant’s demise has been exaggerated:
“The NFL certainly stands for “Not For Long”, so it’s understandable why many seem to have forgotten the type of talent that Bryant is and it explains why some have even suggested that he may not be in Dallas for much longer. There is no ignoring the injuries sustained over the last two years and of course you can’t continue to absorb $15+ million cap hits on a player if they’re injured every season, but Bryant deserves much more benefit of the doubt than to suggest that he should be a cap cut in the near future.”
Just to add to Joseph’s point, there are reasons to believe that Dez Bryant is not only back to being himself but should return to NFL dominance in 2017.
The chemistry between a receiver and quarterback is not built overnight. Before Dak Prescott took over for Tony Romo, he was passing to the guys trying to make the team. Dak and Dez barely had any time together before it was GO-time. Let’s focus on the way Dez Bryant ended last season because it’s not always about how you start, it’s how you finish.
After returning in week eight, Bryant wasted no time in getting back on track. In a 29-23 overtime victory over the Eagles, Bryant averaged 28.3 yards per catch, had four receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown. In the final 10 games, Bryant scored seven of his eight touchdowns. He had dominating performances against the Steelers, Ravens, and Lions. Speaking of that Detroit game, Bryant scored twice but also threw his first career touchdown pass to Jason Witten in that 42-21 rout of the Lions.
In only one postseason performance, he was PFF’s second-highest rated postseason receiver with a rating at 156.3. Of course, it was against the Packers, who were 31st in pass defense. Still, nine receptions for 132 yards and two scores is a big time performance. If you’re one to criticize Dez for beating up on a weak defense, let’s just remind you that Odell Beckham Jr. only had four receptions for 28 yards a week prior against that same defense.
PFF also gave Dez Bryant an 84.8 grade which was 11th among 115 eligible receivers. We’re not saying that PFF is the perfect method but they did have another interesting showing of how Dez compares to his contemporaries:
Dez Bryant's most targeted routes in 2016 were the go, hitch and slant. Here's how his performance compared to the NFL average... pic.twitter.com/8k7G2WQOTb— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 25, 2017
For all you fantasy football lovers out there, Mike Tagliere penned a column over at Fantasy Pros about Bryant and how he’s not done by a long shot:
"The transition to Dak Prescott turned out to be tougher than most expected, as Bryant and Prescott connected on just 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games, or 39 percent.
If you ignore their first five games together, removing the Week 17 game where both Bryant and Prescott played one series, here’s what their final eight games have totaled (playoffs included): 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards, and eight touchdowns.
That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate, a far cry from the 39 percent over their first five games. It’s also important to note that his targets per game didn’t increase over this time, just his efficiency.”
Mike believes that Dez Bryant may not be as valuable to fantasy owners as he was in the past but he’s not giving up on the All-Pro:
“If you’re worried about Bryant, it has nothing to do with his recent performance, because he was arguably better than any wide receiver over the final eight weeks.”
As Dak and Dez have more time together, their rapport is going to grow stronger. Bryant averaged 15.9 yards per catch last season, that’s about a full yard more than his previous career high. Bryant also replaced Julio Jones in the Pro Bowl.
Another interesting side note: Do you know who was PFF’s third-highest wide receiver based on passer rating when thrown to? It’s not Dez Bryant, it was Terrance Williams (124.6). That just tells you the amount of respect that is paid to a guy like Bryant as his mere presence makes the offense better.
Guys like Josh Norman can talk about Bryant and say that he’s “just a guy” but they’d be very wrong. In fact, I know we’re giving PFF a lot of love, but Sam Monson wrote seven months ago about why Bryant won against Norman on Turkey Day though his stats read only four receptions, 72 yards:
“Of the three catches Norman did allow to Bryant, two of them moved the chains and the other picked up nine of the necessary 10 yards on first down.
It may not have been a great night for Bryant and the stat sheet might look like Norman got the better of the matchup between the two, but throw on the tape and you find a very different result. Bryant was too much for Norman to handle this time, and deserved the win even if he didn’t get the stats.”
He may not eclipse his amazing numbers of 2014 but this is still every bit of the All-Pro he always has been. Whether it’s game day, on the practice field, in the weight room, or an interview: Dez Bryant is special. The way he finished off his 2016 season shows you that there is plenty of gas left in this tank. This is the guy that is second in the league in touchdowns (67) since he was drafted in 2010.
This may be a new youthful Cowboys’ regime but it's one that Dez was instrumental in creating. Bryant doesn’t need any critical comments to get him hyped for 2017. Though he’s going face some of the league’s best cornerbacks, Dez is going to be Dez and there is no better description than the man’s own words to leave you on:
“The way that I feel now, I’m not dealing with really anything. I feel damn good. I know once I’m 100 [percent], I’m something hard to -- I was about to say some bad words -- but I’m hard to deal with. That confidence is just steady expanding. I’ll tell you this: I’ve never been [more] ready for training camp. I’m excited. I can’t wait for training camp. I’m ready to lead. I’m ready to get back, and I’m ready for the season to start. I’m praying every day. I just want me, this whole team to be injury-free just because we got something special. The sky can be the limit for us.”