One of my first articles that I wrote when I joined this site was my take on where Dez Bryant ranks among the league’s best wide receivers using their 2012 statistics. But in this article, I wanted to get more in depth as to what makes Dez Bryant an elite wide receiver in the NFL today. Like Michael Jordan shooting a basketball or Tiger Woods swinging a golf club, catching a football is something that just comes natural for Dez Bryant. While this has never been doubted, it was all the little things that Bryant did as the season progressed that allowed him to become an elite receiver, and not just a fascinating talent.
In week four against the Chicago Bears, Dez Bryant played one of his worst games in his short NFL career. After failing to run the correct route late in the 2nd quarter that led to an interception and multiple drops, many NFL analysts and writers were ready to give up on Bryant. Calvin Watkins from ESPN Dallas wrote after the game that “It makes you wonder if (Dez) is worth all the trouble. Maybe not, because Bryant isn’t close to being an elite receiver.” But the Dallas Cowboys have shown an incredible amount of patience with Dez Bryant and because of this, they were rewarded with an unbelievable second half of the season from the young receiver.
So to begin my full scouting report on Dez Bryant, let’s look to see just how great of an athlete we are dealing with. Just for comparison’s sake, here are the measurables of the best “big” wide receivers in the NFL today:
10 yd split
*A few notes before we compare Dez Bryant to the other elite wide receivers in the NFL. Demaryius Thomas missed the combine and his pro day due to a foot injury. Thomas’ 40 time was reported prior to him injuring his foot. It should be noted that the hand sizes of Marshall, Johnson, and Fitzgerald were not available.
First of all, Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature. But we already knew that. Secondly, Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos, who was selected right before Dez Bryant, is also an incredible athlete. His hands are the biggest out of the group and tied for the second (unofficial) fastest 40 yard dash.
But back to Dez Bryant and his insane measurables. Dez’s measurables are amazing when you compare him to other freak athletes like Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Dez possess the second biggest hands, tied for the fastest 10 yard split and had the second highest vertical leap. And something else to keep in mind; when Dez Bryant showed off his measurables in Lufkin, Texas, he was widely considered to be out of shape by pro scouts and talent evaluators.
But measurables can only get us so far in decoding Dez Bryant’s success in 2012. I have watched every snap Dez Bryant took in 2012 to prepare for this article, and I will show you a few reasons as to why he took the leap from talented wide receiver to one of the best in the NFL last season.
Dez Bryant’s major flaw in 2011 was that he would start off games so well, but would fade in the fourth quarter when the team desperately needed him to produce. Bryant has commented that his 2011 conditioning was not at the level that it should have been. Going into 2012, Bryant made it a priority to improve his conditioning, so that he could dominate late in games.
Dez Bryant 2012
Dez Bryant 2011
As you can see, Bryant accomplished that goal in 2012. With just under 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in the second half, Bryant became deadly after halftime. But one thing that was curious to me when looking up these stats is to why was he so ineffective in the first quarter? The answer is actually simple; the Cowboys offense was ineffective in the first quarter all year. The team only averaged 2.25 points per 1st quarter in 2012. If the team wants to get out to a faster start, they might consider going back to Bryant to help establish an early lead.
Run After Catch
Another aspect of Dez Bryant’s game that makes him such a special talent and something that he has improved on is his ability to create plays after the catch. To say Dez is an aggressive runner is an insult to his game. He might be the hardest player to bring down after the catch that the wide receiver position has seen in a long time. Dez’s passion to play with absolute reckless abandon for his own body is what makes him special, but also is a weakness of his game.
Dez has defenders surrounding him, six to be exact, and Dez could very easily go to the ground since he has already picked up the first down. But Dez’ “win-at-any-cost” attitude doesn’t allow him to go down, even though he is engulfed by defenders.
Dez displays excellent vision in that he sees the cutback lane and knows how to accelerate once he finds the seam. Like a running back, Dez does a good job at setting up defenders so that he has potential running lanes. Using his exceptional quickness, Dez makes the cut back to left and to the end zone.
This is one of my favorite plays from the entire 2012 season. Why? Because Dez Bryant makes an incredible catch on third down and yet, he makes the play look simple and routine.
With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie draped all over him and holding his right arm, Dez Bryant sticks his left hand out to snag the ball out of the air. As soon as the ball hits his hands he has possession of it. Bryant also manages to keep his feet on the turf to ensure that the catch will stand. In previous years, Dez would leave his feet to make this grab and the end result would occasionally be an incomplete pass, even though he made an outstanding effort. This is just one of the many ways Dez Bryant matured his game in 2012.
Fade/Back Shoulder Route
As I just showed you, Bryant made an unbelievable grab on a back shoulder fade route. And that was a play that Bryant struggled with in 2011. That season, the team used Dez primarily as their fade wide receiver in the end zone. And while I do think that Dez is one of the best fade receivers in the NFL, the back shoulder fade, if used correctly, is one of the most unstoppable plays in football. With this weapon now in his arsenal, Dez Bryant has become one of the premier red zone targets in the league.
So after demonstrating everything that Dez Bryant does well and has improved upon, you might wonder where Dez needs to improve to become an even better wide receiver. In 2012, Bryant dropped the ball nine times. This tied him for 6th in the league for drops. In 2011, Bryant only dropped one pass, having a 98.4 percent catch rate compared with 91.7 in 2012. Also, Dez fumbled five times in 2012, losing two of them.
What should be exciting for Dallas Cowboy fans is Dez Bryant’s unrealized potential. At only 24 years old, Bryant is just starting to scratch the surface as to the kind of football player he could become. With his combination of size, speed, hands and passion for the game of football, I believe that 2013 could be a record season for this player. Cowboy fans need to embrace Dez Bryant and enjoy him in 2013 because we are truly witnessing one of NFL’s the elite talents at the wide receiver position.