Dez Bryant…. Such a puzzling fantasy player in recent years. It is really hard to understand what the Cowboys are doing as they aren’t saving much cap with the move. Dez has had his issues and his production has suffered over the last few years, but he is still a big-bodied receiver with some speed (although not considered a burner). Yes, he is 30 years old, but could this change in scenery actually rejuvenate his career?
What Was Shows What is to Come?
Using the same measure used for the Movement Creating Potential post a while back, some examination of his potential synergy at some of his “wish list” destinations was warranted. For context let’s remember that the top compatible pairs on the outside ranged from 19 (Julio and Matt Ryan) to 29 (Michael Thomas and Brees). The slot ranged from 23 (Big Ben and Antonio Brown) to 34 (Rivers and Keenan Allen). As a baseline for Dez let’s look at his last few years of production along with his calculated compatibility with Dak Prescott.
- 2016: 13 games, 50 recs, 796 yds, 8 TDs, 52% catch rate
- 2017: 16 games, 69 recs, 838 yds, 6 TDs, 52% catch rate
- Outside compatibility: 12
- Slot Compatibility: 16
His last healthy year before Dak, he had over 1300 yds, 88 recs, and 16 TDs! Is there any way that he can get back to this type of production? One step toward that possibility has to be partnering with a passer that is more compatible with his route tree.
Dez’s Wish List
Desirable destinations for Bryant include the Giants, Houston, Washington, New England, and Jacksonville. Refer to the wish list article above to read Dez’s perspective on the fit for each, or at least what can be inferred from his recent comments.
New York Giants
This match has the potential to cause havoc in the NFC East. OBJ, Bryant, Shepard, Engram, and now Barkley…. this would give Eli Manning one of the best pass-catching corps in the league. However there is one thing that will hold back the potential of this group: the Giants continued neglect of the offensive line. With the addition of Nate Solder from New England and Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft, perhaps there is hope.
But this article is about Dez and his possibilities in a new destination. Since they made some sensible moves to address their abysmal line, Dez gets a bump in outside compatibility from 12 to 18. Having OBJ on the other side is somewhat of a double-edged sword where Beckham is sure to draw coverage away from Dez, but at the same time Bryant’s target share upside is capped.
In the event the Giants decide to go the Larry Fitzgerald route with Dez and puts him is the slot while Shepard works the outside with OBJ, his compatibility improves from 16 to 28. However with that comes a reduced target share, even more so than playing opposite O’Dell.
Because of the competition for targets Bryant’s range of possibilities for fantasy production are somewhere between high WR3, if he ends up in the slot, to low-mid WR2. I don’t think Dez would be able to get to WR1 production given the environment and I would put money on it if they don’t do something about that offensive line. After the draft this is one of the more likely destinations being that the Giants made no further receiver acquisitions.
On the surface this pairing seems ripe with possibilities. In a similar way to the Giants situation Dez would walk into a role as the WR2 of the Texans offense, or would he? He wouldn’t be vying for DeAndre Hopkins position as the WR1, and Will Fuller as the deep threat, had a steak of scoring where the pace was unsustainable with Deshaun Watson throwing the ball. In these 3 games with Watson, he had the low-volume, high-impact production that came to 9 recs, 244 yds, and 5 TDs. So what would happen with Dez here? Would they move Dez to the slot or would they move Fuller. If they were to move Fuller, then he could do some ridiculous damage in the slot with his speed against the third best cover guy on the defense where Dez in the slot would be nasty in the red zone given his size.
As far as the compatibility it is a slight improvement for Dez on the outside and the slot, but not by much. On the outside there is an increase of 5, but in the slot we only see a 3-point improvement.
We must keep in mind that Watson’s overall passer rating was on the rise before his injury so it is possible that the model underrates this combination of passer and receiver. The reality is that he will be competing heavily for targets. Unfortunately for Dez, this caps his potential at low-end WR2 at best. While this destination looked amazing, it is probably no longer a destination given that they drafted Keke Coutee in the 4th.
This sounds like it could be one of the better opportunities for Dez. There’s no established “1” there, Terrelle Pryor is gone, Josh Doctson is still developing, they only drafted Trey Quinn in the 6th round, and the Skins aren’t too far away from being competitive. With an offensive line returning from an injury riddled season, the Redskins should be able to compete well for 2nd in the NFC East. Dez would likely fill the void of the top target that exists in Washington, which seems like it gives his value a boost.
However, there is Alex Smith. Even though Smith was top of the charts in passer rating (104.7) in 2017, the fantasy upside of his teammates felt limited. Sure there was Kelce‘s awesome tight end production and the emergence of Tyreek Hill, but other than that he never really produced a high-end traditional outside receiver. The concern is reflected in the compatibility which actually gets worse here at 14 on the outside and 10 in the slot.
Dez has been talking a lot about wanting to face the Cowboys twice in 2018. Washington has the cap space and the need at receiver so the possibility of this becoming his landing spot is perhaps more real than the others. For dynasty owners of Dez, keep your ears to the ground. If this pairing seems like it will become a reality, sell him as quickly as possible before the signing while you can get some value.
New England Patriots
Dez is seeking a change in scenery that would both end in a Super Bowl victory and be special by his definition at the same time. The 24-7 Sports article referenced above indicated that Dez would feel that a Super Bowl victory with the Patriots would feel “less special” being that Brady and Belichick have won so many in recent year (but not last year! FLY EAGLES FLY!!).
I’m not sure how much there is to Dez’s speculated perspective in joining New England. Every player wants a shot at at a Super Bowl title. Right now, the AFC is the weaker conference and the Patriots are projected to dominate it again so why not take a shot at a Super Bowl run with the best odds. Again, Bryant is coming up on 30, and with nothing guaranteed in the NFL, especially seasons after 30 years old, Dez may take a one year type deal to round out his NFL career.
The potential compatibility between Bryant and Tom Brady is pretty exciting though as his outside compatibility puts them tied for the 7th best pairing (rated 25) on the outside. When we think of New England bringing in big name receivers over 30 we naturally think waaaaayyy back to 2009 when Randy Moss went to the Patriots. Is it possible that Dez could muster a season that is even a shadow of that 84 rec, 1264 yds, 13 TDs season Moss put up? I would take a chance on that possibility for sure.
People may naturally be worried about Julian Edelman and the sheer amount of targets he gets, but keep in mind Moss was 2nd in receptions on the team in 2009, behind Wes Welker (40 more targets than Moss). Think about this too: New England had the most red zone pass attempts (100) last season. Dallas had the 5th most red zone pass attempts last year and Dez had 27% (23 of 85) of those targets. Brady loved to distribute those targets evenly when not throwing to Gronk (21 RZ targets), but perhaps its because he didn’t have another target with quite the size that Dez has.
This is probably the only destination where I believe that Dez can return to a high-end WR2 or even low-end WR1 production. Competing dynasty teams should be looking to acquire Dez cheap amid the uncertainty if they believe this is a possibility. An actual acquisition of Dez would move him up my redraft board a little as well.
This would have been a consideration before the draft, but the Jaguars drafted D.J. Chark in the second round. Chark has size, speed, and vertical abilities that surpass what Dez would have been able to offer. With those abilities and his youth Chark will likely fill the void left by Allen Robinson. At 6′ 3″ he provides Jacksonville a better red zone threat than Marqise Lee who stands at 6′ 0″. This acquisition likely kills any chance of this being a Dez Bryant destination. Between Bryant’s perceived decline and the uneasy feelings you have to deal with by depending on Bortles, Dez would would have beean overall ‘pass’ anyway.
Wait and See
Based on the above, the only destination that makes Dez a “buy” in dynasty or elevates him on my redraft board is New England. The others have too much potential to drive his fantasy value into the ground.
On the other hand, it is entirely possible he doesn’t land anywhere on his wish list, but we will just have to wait and see. There are some other locations mentioned in Mike Fisher‘s article like Green Bay (interesting, but Dez says there is “too much history there”), the Rams (seems too crowded), the Saints (but they just signed Cameron Meredith), the Jets, the Raiders, the Eagles, and the Niners. Since Dez wants to keep playing football, if he remains a free agent for an extended he may have to look outside of his wish list.
What if he considered Seattle with Russel Wilson? Or even opposite T.Y. Hilton with a healthy Andrew Luck in Indianapolis? Maybe he could go to the Bengals as they try to revitalize their offense or even the Ravens. The Dolphins could use another receiver even though they got Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. The Titans just moved on from Eric Decker so perhaps that could be an option. Of all of these non-wish list possibilities, Seattle, Indianapolis, and the Titans seem the most intriguing. Maybe the compatibility is worth looking at as well.