Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

Dez Bryant has struggled with injuries and in-season battles in the past two years. Bryant was once a top five receiver in fantasy. From 2012-14, he finished in the top five in fantasy points in the receiver group. But with struggles with injuries and a transition to a new Dallas offense and quarterback, will Bryant return to being the elite fantasy player that he was early in his career?

Throw up the X: 2011-14

After his rookie season, Bryant came to life. In 2011, Bryant became a top option for Tony Romo behind Jason Witten. He finished with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished in the top 20 that year in fantasy for receivers.

The following season, Bryant broke onto the scene. He had his first season over 1,000 yards and had over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns. He finished in the top 10 in receptions (92), yards (1,382) and receiving yards per game (86.4). His 12 touchdowns were top-three. Bryant finished third in fantasy that season.

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo by: zimbio.com)

In 2013, he had another solid season. He saw his targets spike from 138 to 160. He finished in the top five in fantasy again under receivers and his 93 receptions ranked eighth. His 13 touchdowns again ranked third.

Bryant did see a small decline in receiving yards with 1,233 and his receiving yards per game (77.1) that both ranked outside the top 10.

However, Bryant did perform in the top two inside the 10-yard line of the red zone. He led the league in targets (16), receptions (11) and touchdowns (9). He finished second in yards (38) and target percentage (43.2).

Bryant developed into a red zone weapon and also ranked in the top 10 in receptions (13) and target percentage (29.9) inside the 20-yard line. He was also second in touchdowns with 10 inside the 20.

2014 was probably Bryant’s best fantasy season to date. He finished third in fantasy points among receivers, his third top five finish in a row. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16. Bryant also improved his receiving yards (1,320) and receiving yards per game (82.5), which ranked eighth and 10th respectively.

He did have less receptions (88) but averaged 14.3 fantasy points per game, a career-best that season which ranked third. He also had his best PPR fantasy points per game at 19.8. Bryant also doubled his catches of 20-plus yards with 22 that ranked fifth in 2014.

In those four seasons, Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most during that timeframe, and no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns.

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

Before the season, Bryant resigned with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million of guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus.

In a game against the Giants on Sep. 13, 2015, Bryant had a foot injury. The x-ray revealed a fracture in the foot that required surgery. He returned in week eight and struggled, getting two receptions for 12 yards.

In a season in which he struggled with health issues, he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Before the injury, part of Bryant’s success was having Tony Romo as the quarterback. They only played three games together in 2015 as Romo had a back injury.

Bryant played with two other quarterbacks (Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) that season. All of his three touchdowns came from a different quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2016, he underwent foot and ankle surgeries.

In 2016, his favorite quarterback in the preseason went down with another back injury and rookie Dak Prescott became the starter. It proved again that Bryant missed Romo as the quarterback as he and Prescott only connected on 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games together.

This led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had just three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. He also missed three games with a knee injury. However, removing week 17 where they played only one series, Bryant and Prescott came to life.

In the final eight games including the playoffs, Bryant had 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate. It seemed that Bryant came back to being the receiver he once was.

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

In 2017, there is some concern regarding Bryant. Besides adding no receiver help to complement him, Bryant will face Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward and Richard Sherman.

In the two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets and fumbled once that clinched the Giants win in the second meeting.

The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

And expect Norman to shadow Bryant this year after not doing so in 2016. In the first three games for Bryant, he plays the Giants at home and then goes to Denver and Arizona on the road. We could see again early season struggles for him.

He has missed 22 games in two seasons. He is also in a run-heavy offense with a great offensive line and a premier running back. The defense in Dallas hasn’t improved, especially in the backfield which could lead to Prescott throwing the ball more if they have to play catch up. That would benefit Bryant but the game plan will be to run the ball to protect Prescott.

But how good will Prescott be if he has to throw to win? That’s a question for another article.

Bryant is a top-10 fantasy receiver that should be drafted somewhere in the third round. Be cautious with his durability, and Prescott worries me this year as he is my top bust for quarterbacks. In some leagues he will be a top receiver for most teams, but he’s a high-end WR2 with a ceiling as a middling WR1.

 

Featured image from reddit.com

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Franchise Analysis – Arizona Cardinals

Every year the NFL has its share of surprising teams. People often talk about who has the potential to go from worst to first. However, one team was a victim of regression. The Arizona Cardinals entered the season with high expectations coming off their NFC Championship appearance in 2015. After a 7-8-1 finish, the Cardinal faithful are still wondering, what on earth happened?

2016 Evaluation – offense

In 2015, the Cardinals had a prolific passing attack. They specifically had a great down field passing game, which is something that didn’t carry over in 2016. There are two main reasons for this drop off in production. The first is the emergence of David Johnson as an elite offensive player. This doesn’t necessarily mean they ran the ball more though. In fact, the 2015 Cardinals ran the ball 452 times versus 399 in 2016.

The usage of David Johnson in the pass game is what led to the decrease in downfield production. Johnson is uniquely talented, but rarely was he running routes further than 10 yards down the field. This would explain Carson Palmer’s decline in yards per attempt from 8.7 in 2015, to 7.1 in 2016. The difference is even more staggering when looking at the adjusted yards per attempt: 9.1 in 2015 to 6.9 in 2016.

With another off-season under Bruce Arians and the current personnel, can Carson Palmer reassert himself as one of the best down field throwers in the NFL in 2017? (Courtesy of; Heavy.com)

We know David Johnson impacted the downfield passing game, but how much of the decreased production falls on Carson Palmer? Palmer had 65 completions of 20+ yards and a staggering 15 completions of 40+ yards in 2015. In 2016, Palmer’s production decreased sharply with only 48 completions of 20+ yards and 6 completions of 40+ yards.

Palmer was also sacked 15 more times in 2016, which absolutely impacts production. However, this kind of decline in production has more to do with attempting to throw the ball downfield, rather than protection breakdowns. As a whole, the Arizona Cardinals offense was still productive, finishing sixth in points and ninth in yards. With minor upgrades at certain positions like right guard and tight end, this offense can easily ascend back to its 2015 greatness.

 

2016 Evaluation – Defense

Calais Campbell earned All-Pro honors this year headlining a top-tier Cardinals defense (Courtesy of; NBCSports.com).

While the offense took a step back in 2016, the Cardinal’s defense was still productive. They finished 14th in points allowed and second in yards allowed this season. Compared to finishing seventh in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed the previous year, there wasn’t much of a drop off. This defense has play makers at every level like Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, and Patrick Peterson among others. Unfortunately, injuries kept this unit from excelling with players coming and going at different points in the season.

There are two positions in particular that could use an upgrade. Those would be cornerback and defensive end. In fairness, any corner playing opposite Patrick Peterson will be targeted heavily. However, players are expected to improve with more playing time. Marcus Cooper was above average against the run, but that’s not what corners get paid to do. Hopefully Tyvon Branch and Justin Bethel can return healthy next season so that Cooper’s role on defense is limited.

Frostee Rucker needs to be upgraded or needs a reduced role in this defense as well. Rucker played mostly in their base defense, but was still a liability against the run. Arizona often featured their nickel package with Markus Golden playing defensive end. This would put Tyrann Mathieu in the slot with the ability to make plays against the run. The nickel package of Arizona is their best defense because of the range their secondary players possess, as well as their pass rush ability.

Divisional Evaluation

In my opinion, Arizona is just as good as Seattle. They just have a different style of player at the quarterback position that can’t mask other offensive holes. Russell Wilson is able to extend plays and avoid rushers and Carson Palmer can’t. Palmer is perfectly capable of stepping up and moving in the pocket, but when pressure is coming from the middle, he isn’t as mobile. The Cardinals need to secure the middle of their offensive line, specifically at right guard. Earl Watford, a tackle by trade, played the position in Evan Mathis’ absence. Sadly, Mathis is not under contract for the 2017 season and is 35 years old. The Cardinals could resign Mathis, or they could look to add depth through the draft.

With the 13th pick in the 2017 draft, the Cardinals have a lot of options. Marlon Humphrey and Adoree Jackson could reinforce an already strong secondary. Corey Davis could serve as the successor to Larry Fitzgerald and potentially help the Cardinals return to attacking defenses downfield. Solomon Thomas could address their need at defensive end and has experience in the 3-4 defense. The point is, they could go in a variety of directions, all of which could greatly impact their franchise moving forward. I would like them to address their offensive line with a significant investment, but there isn’t a guard that warrants selection at the 13th spot.

The Cardinals proved this year that they can compete with and beat Seattle. With a few adjustments in personnel and refocus on the downfield passing game, this team can retake the top spot in the NFC West.

Post Season Prospects

I’ve already made it clear that this is a playoff team. Just for some perspective, here is how the Arizona Cardinals stack up to the 2016 postseason teams in the most important statistics.

We’ve outlined how the Cardinals have slightly regressed this season. As a whole, they are still an effective offense. To make the playoffs, and win playoff games, you can’t have glaring holes on your team. Every playoff team this postseason were at least top 15 in two or more of these offensive categories. Clearly, the Cardinals meet that criteria and are an above average NFL offense that can still improve if they have a good draft and make smart free agent choices.

It’s one thing to be top 15 in two or three of these critical criteria, but the Cardinals are top 15 in every significant metric. This defense was the reason why they were able to beat Seattle on the road and neutralize them at home to force a tie. The points allowed metric can be affected by the offense. If they turn the ball over or give the defense bad field position, then teams are going to score more points. Despite the impact the offense had on points allowed, they still finished in the top 15. The Cardinals are in great shape defensively, they just have to stay healthy for the majority of the 2017 season.

2017 Predictions

This team is poised to make another postseason push. Having a top 15 draft pick will only help this team reach its potential, but they have challenges looming. The Arizona Cardinals have over 15 players who are free agents. They must make smart decisions on what players to re-sign and what players they can replace in the draft. If free agency is handled correctly and the draft is a success, this team will absolutely challenge Seattle for the top team in the NFC West. Next season, I like the Arizona Cardinals to finish 10-6 and win the division.

 

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Storylines on Conference Championship Sunday

This is the Sunday where the NFL gives out the second most important t-shirts and hats. It’s Conference Championship Sunday! The Panthers are hosting the Cardinals. The Patriots will host the Broncos. By seeding, these are the two best teams in the NFC and AFC. Let’s start on the NFC side of the bracket.

NFC

Coutesy of, sportsinfo.co

Coutesy of, sportsinfo.co

Two of the best defenses in the whole league the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers. Both teams have one of the elite corners in the game. The Cardinals have Patrick Peterson, a corner that has been playing at an elite level since he has been in the league. The Panthers have Josh Norman, who is now emerging into that elite category.

On the offensive side of the matchup, the Panthers love to run the ball with either Cam Newton or their two Pro Bowl backs Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart. While the Cardinals love to throw the ball around. The only real parallels the two teams have is that they have QB’s that are at the top of their game. Both QB’s were number 1 overall picks in the draft, before this season have been selected to two Pro Bowls, and both have won the Heisman Trophy. Carson Palmer being somewhat of journeyman this being his third team in his career and enduring many ACL injuries and he is now getting rewarded for his hard work and dedication. Since Cam Newton’s car crash in the latter part of last season, he has been on a terror putting up crazy numbers ever since and playing winning football. Now this year he only had one loss and is the leading candidate for the MVP.

Prediction: I predict the game to have a good bit of points. Around a 28-24 point game, coming down to a game winning TD on the last drive of the game. The winner being…the Cardinals! It would be a perfect gift to Larry Fitzgerald. He is really one of the best role models this game has seen. In this offense, one of the best receivers in this game is used as a blocker. He is the shining examples of a hard working team first kind of player.

AFC

Courtesy of, afcchampionshipgame2016.net

Courtesy of, afcchampionshipgame2016.net

It’s the NFL’s version of Magic-Bird, it’s Tom Brady-Peyton Manning. Brady has 11 wins in their 16 previous meetings. And this is going to be the 17th meeting this Sunday. On this Sunday, Peyton wants to get his first win against Tom in championship games. Tom Brady has won the only two times they have played for the AFC title.

As always, Tom Brady’s offense is almost solely wrapped around his right arm throwing the ball. But this year in Denver, the offense is solely on Peyton’s ability to hand the ball off to a running back and his ability to not throw interceptions. It is also a little different because their personal integrity is being questioned. Tom and his role in Deflategate and Peyton being accused of using PED’s. Brady is having one of his best seasons to date, while Manning has had a season he would rather forget. He is tops in the league in interceptions thrown and is coming off an injury.

Prediction: I predict the tides will turn on Tom Brady and Peyton’s Broncos will be victorious. This is one of Manning’s best defenses and best run game in his career and both are better than Brady’s defense and run game this time. I see the game being a score like 31-17 or 38-24, a 14-point game. Brady will be under constant pressure and will have a turnover or two. Peyton will then be in position to get his second Super Bowl Ring and tie his brother.