Fantasy Football: Don’t Get Fooled By Dez Bryant

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The bust rate of early round fantasy football running backs has been well documented. The volatile nature of the position makes early round fantasy running backs investments successful only 50 percent of the time. While early round fantasy wide receiver selections are generally safer, they also have produced some significant disappointments.

Fantasy Football: Don’t Get Fooled by Dez Bryant

In 2014, Washington’s Pierre Garcon was drafted on average as the 11th wide receiver off draft boards. Despite totaling 113 receptions in the prior season, Garcon managed only 68 receptions, 752 yards, and three touchdowns while playing a full 16 game season. He finished as the 47th fantasy wide receiver in Point Per Reception (PPR) scoring formats.

In 2015, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb enjoyed status as the eighth fantasy wide receiver selected on average. A 91 catch, 1,287 yard, and 12 touchdown season in 2014, gave way to a 79 catch, 829 yards, six touchdown underwhelming stat line. Cobb ranked as a WR3 in both PPR and standard scoring formats.

Finally, in 2016, Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins took his fourth wide receiver fantasy draft ranking and produced a mild 78 catch, 954 yards, and four touchdown season. Hopkins frustrated fantasy owners with a 26th ranked wide receiver finish. He was joined by Alshon Jeffery (ADP WR11, finished WR 55) and Allen Robinson (ADP WR7, finished as WR 24) as huge receiving disappointments for fantasy owners.

In each of those cases, there were signs that indicated an impending bust season. Age, injury concerns, and questionable quarterback or team play all played a part in the demise of those highly regarded fantasy receivers. In 2017, there are again signs that a top 12 ADP wide receiver is destined to disappoint fantasy owners.

This wide receiver is universally viewed as a top fantasy option, has a history of superb production, and plays on one of the most high-profile teams in the NFL. If we complete a deeper analysis, however, this player has carries many of the same warning signs of those past early round bust receivers.

That player is Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Don’t Get Fooled By Dez Bryant

Three Year Decline

A look at Dez Bryant’s career stats show a player who has been one of the best receivers in the NFL during his seven year career.

Year Age G Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
2010 22 12 73 45 561 12.5 6 46.8
2011 23 15 103 63 928 14.7 9 61.9
2012 24 16 138 92 1382 15 12 86.4
2013 25 16 159 93 1233 13.3 13 77.1
2014 26 16 136 88 1320 15 16 82.5
2015 27  9 72 31 401 12.9 3 44.6
2016 28 13 96 50 796 15.9 8 61.2
Career 97 777 462 6621 14.3 67 68.3

 

While that is true, a closer look at Bryant’s last three seasons show a player on the decline. Bryant has seen over a 20 yard reduction in his per game receiving yards average since his WR4 PPR season of 2014. In addition, he has caught only 11 touchdowns in 22 games over the past two seasons, which represents a sharp decline from the outstanding 2012-2014 three year period where he produced a 0.85 touchdowns per game average.

Bryant’s per game reception production has also slowed over the last three seasons. When compared to the other fantasy wide receivers near his current 2017 ADP, Bryant does not measure up.

Dez Bryant is catching fewer passes and scoring fewer touchdowns on a per game basis. Given his WR10 (ADP 20.6) draft position, that is a dangerous combination.

Limited Yards After Catch

Another telltale sign of Bryant’s decreasing value is found when examining his yards after catch average.

ADP Name YAC (2016) YAC (2015) YAC (2014)
1 Antonio Brown 3.70 4.30 4.9
2 Odell Beckham 5.10 6.10 5.7
3 Julio Jones 5.10 5.00 5.4
4 Mike Evans 1.80 3.30 2.7
5 A.J. Green 4.20 3.60 5.1
6 Jordy Nelson 3.50 n/a 5.5
7 Michael Thomas 5.20 n/a n/a
8 T.Y. Hilton 3.70 5.60 4.5
9 Amari Cooper 5.60 5.30 n/a
10 Dez Bryant 2.80 4.10 4.9
11 Doug Baldwin 4.90 5.20 5.4
12 DeAndre Hopkins 3.20 1.60 5.1
13 Brandin Cooks 4.80 4.60 3.2
14 Demaryius Thomas 3.70 4.70 6.1

 

Bryant is one of only two top 14 wide receivers by ADP who has experienced over a 2.0 yards per catch decrease over the past three seasons. The other is Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, who supplemented that decrease with an average of 102 receptions per year. Bryant’s three-year average of 56.3 receptions per season pales in comparison.

The other receiver on the list with a low yards after catch average is Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans. Both Bryant and Evans are similar players who accumulate fantasy points by winning at the catch point, particularly in the red zone. The difference, however, is that Evans is five years younger and has missed two games in three seasons. Bryant, who turns 29 this season, has missed ten games over the past two seasons. In addition, the injuries that Bryant has suffered (foot fracture, knee fracture, multiple back strains) directly affect his ability to win at the catch point. Bryant possessed below average NFL wide receiver speed (4.57 40-Yard Dash) before his seven year professional career began, and certainly has slowed down more due to injuries.

Quarterback Play

It is worth noting that Bryant’s most prolific fantasy seasons came with a healthy Tony Romo as quarterback. From 2012 to 2014, Romo missed just two games, and Bryant’s fantasy production flourished as a result. He reaped the benefits of playing with an experienced veteran quarterback.

While the Cowboys second-year quarterback Dak Prescott garnered NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors for his incredible 2016 performance, it will be interesting to see if he can repeat his efficiency when opposing defenses adjust this season. Bryant received an average of 7.4 targets per game with Prescott, placing him 46th among all fantasy wide receivers. During his three-year stretch with Romo, Bryant averaged 9.42 targets per game. The 2.0 targets per game decrease (21 percent) puts an even stronger premium on his red zone touchdown production.

As fantasy players, we know touchdowns are very difficult to predict on a year to year basis. Certainly, Bryant’s 6.25 to 1 touchdown to reception ratio from last season is almost impossible for him to reproduce.

Strength of Schedule

The Cowboys finished the 2016 season with a 13-3 record, while feasting on one of the easiest schedules in the league. Based off winning percentage, the Cowboys had the fourth easiest schedule among all NFL teams last season. By all accounts, 2017 will be the exact opposite.

Based on Warren Sharp’s data-driven Strength of Schedule measurement, the Cowboys will play the eighth hardest schedule this season. From a fantasy perspective it will be even tougher. The Cowboys start the season against three top pass defenses: the Giants (home), Broncos (away), and Cardinals (away).

The end of the season is even more difficult, especially for Bryant. The Cowboys face the Redskins (home), Giants (away), Raiders (away), and Seahawks (home) during the critical week 13-16 stretch for fantasy owners. Without an accomplished second receiver lining up across the field, those defenses will focus their attention on taking Bryant away. Examining Bryant’s recent history against the Giants and Seahawks, it is easy to predict a repeat of his past disappointing performances (RotoViz).

NYG/SEA (Last Two Seasons) Other
Games 4 18
PPR/G 4.2 13.9
Recs/G 2.2 4
TDs/G 0 0.61
Rec Yds/G 19.5 62.2

 

Summary

Dez Bryant is still one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, but will fail to perform to his current 20.6 ADP for fantasy football owners. He has suffered several injuries over the past two seasons that will limit his red zone effectiveness. With a second-year quarterback and a lack of fellow receiving options, Bryant will frustrate fantasy owners with extreme volatility on a weekly basis.

If you draft a wide receiver in the second round, it is expected he will finish the season ranked in the top 12 at the position. In 2017, avoid spending a second or third round draft pick on this year’s wide receiver bust, Dez Bryant.

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