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June 9, 2013

2013 Fantasy Value Analysis: Dez Bryant

For the past two years, Calvin Johnson has been the top-ranked fantasy football wide receiver. There is no indiciation that his dominance will change anytime soon. But if there is a player at his position who could unseat Megatron, I think it is Dez Bryant who at times has been equally impressive. Last year was his breakout season, but in 2013 Bryant could produce even bigger fantasy numbers.

Let me tell you guys a short story before I dwelve into my analysis of Dez Bryant's 2013 fantasy football potential. Before the beginning of last year's pro football season, I traded Dez Bryant in one of my keeper leagues for Brandon Marshall. Shortly after, I traded Marshall for a player I targeted in most of my leagues, Julio Jones. In terms of fantasy production, I got the short end in the latter deal, but I felt pretty good about Jones as my keeper for 2013. Until I started seeing Dez Bryant produce one double-digit fantasy performance after the other. After doing more research on Bryant, I am convinced I should have just stayed put with Bryant. Let me explain why.

When Dez Bryant entered the league as a first-round pick in 2010, it came with few questions about his talent but many about his character. Maybe that scared off some teams such as the New England Patriots who may have entertained the thought of drafting Bryant in 2010. The Dallas Cowboys didn't worry about Bryant's off-the-field issues and we're happy to add him to an arsenal of ball catchers that included Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten.

Coming out of college, Bryant was rated as the top receiver in the draft and praised for his size, speed, and ball-catching ability while his maturity and route-running were called into question. He played sparingly in his rookie season, only starting two games, but still catching 45 passes for 561 yards and six touchdowns. Since then, he has improved each year in every receiving category and played an amazing 2012 campaign that saw him rack up 1,382 receiving yards and twelve touchdowns.

Before the 2012 season, Bryant was rightfully termed a breakout candidate by many fantasy football experts and he didn't disappoint - at least not in the second half of the year. In the first eight games of the season, Bryant collected five single-digit performances and only one game with 20+ points. In the second half of the year, he posted only two single-digit performances and four games with 20+ points.

In fact, if you were to calculate Bryant's season totals solely based on his performance in the second half of the 2012 season, you'd end up with 100 receptions, 1,758 yards, and 20 (!) touchdowns. That's good for 295.80 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. In other words, Bryant would have finished as the second-best non-QB in fantasy football behind only Adrian Peterson last year. In 2011, only Ray Rice produced more fantasy points. In 2010, he would have been second only to Arian Foster. He would have been the best non-QB in fantasy football in each of the last three years in PPR-leagues.

Of course, it's not a very accurate practice to assume Bryant could have sustained his production from the second half of the 2012 season over the course of a whole year, but the potential to produce like one of the absolute best fantasy football players is certainly there. Remember that Bryant produced all these fantasy points with a broken finger!

Let's also consider that Dez Bryant always averaged more than one fantasy point per target and increased his production-per-target in each year he's been in the league. In 2010, he averaged 1.28 fantasy points on 72 targets. Had he received the same number of targets as the Cowboys' leading wide receiver in 2010, Miles Austin, he would have finished with over 150 fantasy points. In 2011, it was 1.41 fantasy points on 103 targets. And in 2012, it was 1.51 fantasy points on 138 targets. In other words, the more targets Bryant saw, the more fantasy points he produced per target. Calvin Johnson's production per target last year was only 1.08 fantasy points although his 2011 fantasy points per target were a whopping 1.66.

If you want to further put these stats into perspective, no receiver with the same or a higher number of targets had better points-per-target production than Dez Bryant in 2012. Only Demaryius Thomas was even close with 1.4 fantasy points per target. It's also the tenth-best points-per-target production of any receiver over the last three years (the best wideout was Mike Wallace is 2010 with 1.84 fantasy points per target). Dez Bryant is furthermore the only player who is represented three times among the top twenty-five receivers in terms of points-per-target over the last three years. Calvin Johnson and Mike Wallace are represented twice.

If all that is still not enough for you, maybe our wide receiver rating, which lists Dez Bryant as a Top 10 receiver in every category across standard-scoring and PPR-formats, can convince you. How about the fact that Profootballfocus.com gave Bryant a positive overall and receiving grade in each year he has been in the league?

If you put all these factors together and also consider the fact that Bryant plays in a pass happy offense with an elite (at least for fantasy football purposes) quarterback in Tony Romo and also faces the second-easiest fantasy football schedule among wide receivers with an incredible ten favorable match-ups, the chances are great that Bryant's best fantasy football season is yet to come and will occur in 2013.