He’s still working on a comeback to the NFL, but at least Dez Bryant left a legacy from his eight years in the league, all of them with the Dallas Cowboys. (He never saw the field during his brief moment with the New Orleans Saints). The Cowboys drafting CeeDee Lamb makes it even less likely there will be a reunion in Dallas. Still, Bryant has plenty of stats to speak to his one-time dominance for the franchise.
For all that work, he was recently named to the PFF All-Decade Top 101 players for the 2010s. Here’s how they determine their list.
Like all other PFF Top 101s, this list isn’t an evaluation of talent, but rather of production, efficiency and performance over a specific time period — in this case, the entire decade. Because the time period is far larger this time, we should get far closer to evaluating talent by proxy than in a list that focuses just on a single season, but it’s still a distinction worth thinking about.
This list includes the playoffs, so players with legendary postseason runs will see their stock rise compared to those who have faltered or never made it past the regular season.
Playing time was factored into the decisions, too; somebody who played twice as much within the decade was given some level of preference over players who played only a few seasons in the 2010s.
The list is also created with an “all positions created equal” mentality. The best guard or safety has just as much a chance of topping the list as the best quarterback or sack artist.
Lastly, just like any other All-Decade evaluation, there will be players whose careers get trapped between decades and therefore appear lower on this list than they might if their entire careers had been captured.
For Bryant, they give this recap.
75. WR DEZ BRYANT
Late-career Dez Bryant became solely a possession receiver, but he was a true game-changer at his peak and a worthy heir to Michael Irvin’s No. 88 jersey in Dallas. Only 40 wide receivers caught 400 or more passes over the course of the decade. Meanwhile, Bryant caught 359 passes that moved the chains alone. He also broke 87 tackles and was singularly difficult to bring to the ground one on one at his best. For his career, Bryant produced a 101.9 passer rating for his quarterbacks when targeted.
It’s interesting how they speak of Bryant’s career as almost two different chapters. Early on, Bryant was as dominant as they came and managed to thrive in the Cowboys ball-control, run-first offense. From 2011-2014, Bryant was a monster. He averaged 1,215 yards a season over that stretch, with an annual average of 12.5 touchdowns. He also averaged 14.5 yards per reception in that span.
It looked like he was on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Then injuries hit. In September of 2015, he broke a bone in his foot and missed half of the season. His return was earlier than expected and he didn’t look quite the same. The following year, again in September, he suffered a hairline fracture in his knee. Bryant only missed three games but that was also an aggressive return from injury. It’s something that Bryant would advise against to younger receivers following behind him.
“I’d tell them to get their body right,” Bryant said, per the Dallas Morning News . “I would tell them that that’s a mistake that I made. I’d tell them to get their body right. Keep it healthy, that should be the No. 1 goal. Sometimes you got to make those sacrifices. It’s hard. You want to be out there on that field. You want to make plays. You want to be out there with your teammates. But you can’t compromise your body. That’s what I’d tell them.”
After those injuries, Bryant just never seemed like the same receiver. He would struggle with getting separation and his explosive ability appeared severely diminished. Curiously, his catch rate also dropped dramatically. During his heyday, he generally had a low 60s catch rate percentage, after the injuries that dropped to a low 50s catch rate percentage.
At one time, Bryant looked like a world-beater. If not for injuries, who knows how his story would have turned out.