The biggest name on the wide receiver market has finally signed a contract. Longtime Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has officially signed with the New Orleans Saints and will officially be back on the football field. While Bryant has huge name recognition, fantasy football owners would be wise to hold off on adding the nine-year NFL veteran to their fantasy team. While there is a chance Drew Brees revives his career, Bryant isn’t anything better than what is already available on your waiver wire.
Fantasy Football: Steer Clear of Dez Bryant
Anyone expecting to get 2014 Dez Bryant production in 2018 is asking for disappointment. Bryant hasn’t produced better than that of a WR2 in any of the past three years. Since 2015, Bryant is averaging an unremarkable 63 receptions for 857 yards and seven touchdowns over the course of a full 16-game season. Granted, his quarterback situation hasn’t been the best during that timeframe, but the underlying statistics show that subpar quarterback play is only a small reason for his struggles.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Dez Bryant has been one of the worst players in the league at consistently getting separation. Back in 2016, Bryant averaged just 1.8 yards of separation per target, second-worst in the league. While he improved that number to 2.4 yards in 2017, that’s still nothing to write home about. Dez was still good at using his size to win contested catches, but as of 2017, that’s all he’s good for.
SharpFootballStats.com backs up this assessment. Per Warren Sharp, Dez Bryant was “successful” on just 41.2% of his targets during the 2017 campaign. The league-average success rate was 47.9%, so Bryant was a slightly below-average receiver in 2017. Additionally, Bryant struggled in the deep part of the field, which is where he typically makes his bread and butter. Throughout the 2017 campaign, Bryant was 17% less successful than league average when targeted on the deep left or deep middle portions of the field. When targeted on the deep right portion of the field, Bryant was 7% less successful than the league average.
A Less-Than-Perfect Fit
While Bryant struggled last year, some of Bryant’s 2017 shortcomings were due to Dak Prescott’s inability to successfully push the ball down the field. However, the NFL Next Gen Stats shows that Bryant simply doesn’t get the separation he used to. He’s still able to use his body to get the ball at the point of attack, but he’s no longer capable of using his speed to blow past defenders. If he’s to be a useful fantasy asset, he’d need to go to a team with an aggressive quarterback.
Interestingly enough, Saints quarterback Drew Brees does not fit that description. While Brees is certainly capable of making anybody fantasy relevant, this doesn’t appear to be a great fit for Bryant. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Brees has actually been one of the most cautious quarterbacks in the league. As of this posting, Brees makes “aggressive” throws on 14% of his attempts, good for 6th-lowest in the league.
Just about every pass attempt to Bryant would be an aggressive one. While Brees is certainly capable of making throws like that, he simply chooses not to. It’s hard to blame him for that decision, as he has one of the best receivers in the league in Michael Thomas. Unless he’s schemed open, chances are somebody else on the field will be more open than Bryant. Based on his 2018 performances to date, Brees will typically target whichever player is the most open.
He Hasn’t Played Football In A Year
Let’s save the most obvious point for last. Dez Bryant has not played in a meaningful game of football since December 31st, 2017. He hasn’t had a training camp, minicamp, preseason, or even regular practices since the calendar turned to 2018. While Bryant surely took good care of his body, there’s only so much you can simulate in the gym. At the end of the day, there’s no comparison to the actual experience of playing in a game and going through drills with a team. His body won’t be ready for a full workload, at least for the early going.
Additionally, Bryant will need to learn the Saints playbook and develop a chemistry with Drew Brees all in the course of a few weeks. NFL playbooks are notoriously difficult to pick up, especially ones written by offensive masterminds like Sean Payton. While the Saints will surely have a few plays made specifically for Bryant, his ceiling will be severely limited until he picks up the whole playbook. With the 2018 regular season mostly over, he may not have time to be fully comfortable with the playbook.
Even if he is, he’ll still need to earn Drew Brees’ trust. Developing a rapport with a quarterback is a difficult thing to do on the fly, and it’s anyone’s guess if these two will be able to do it. Dez could come back and look like 2014 Dez Bryant and it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t have the trust of the quarterback.
Last Word on Dez Bryant
While the longtime Dallas Cowboy may be the biggest name on the waiver wire, he’s certainly not the best. Bryant used to be one of the best receivers in football, but those days have long since passed. Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, it’s hard to imagine Dez Bryant having any sort of significant impact on the fantasy football landscape.
For one, he’s clearly lost a step. NFL Next Gen Stats show that, over the past two seasons, Bryant has consistently struggled to create separation. While he’s still good at boxing out defenders and using his size to his advantage, he’s not nearly the player he once was. He’ll need an aggressive quarterback to be effective this season, and Drew Brees has been one of the least aggressive quarterbacks all season long.
And last, but certainly not least, Bryant hasn’t even participated in an NFL practice since 2017. There’s no way to perfectly simulate game action, so his body probably won’t be ready for a full workload right out of the gate. Even if he is somehow ready for that, he still needs to learn the Saints playbook and develop a rapport with Drew Brees. Asking him to do all that would be asking a lot, even if Bryant was in the prime of his career. With his skillset dropping in recent seasons, there’s no reason to believe in Bryant as even a flex player in fantasy football. While everyone else in your league chases the big name, search the waiver wire for lesser-known players with a better fantasy outlook.
Embed from Getty Images