Is Dez Worth The Risk?
Dez Bryant is arguably the highest profile player in this year's Draft is fighting the stigma of the "character concern" label and he seems to be winning the battle --at least according to those who are close to him.
With all of the offseasons changes around the league at the receiver position, perhaps Bryant is the most susceptible to the stigma of the character label. His past has been well-documented so an entire recap here is unnecessary. Suffice it to say, Bryant didn't have a great upbringing. His mother struggled with drug issues, he grew up in an unstable family environment devoid of positive role models. Yet Bryant found a way out, he found football, and he's hoping someone out there belives in him enough to make his their number one choice.
To become a first round choice, Bryant has to overcome some obstacles. He's been accused of having maturity issues. He was found guilty of lying to NCAA investigators and he lost his 2009 season of eligibility at Oklahoma State due to the NCAA sanction imposed upon him.
Yet, despite all of the hurdles, those around Bryant remain positive. "He's a good kid," Bryant's agent Eugene Parker said in a telephone interview late Wednesday evening. "Eveyone who meets him, likes him. Young, old, rich or not."
Certainly Bryant has made an impression on teams. He's a physical specimen. He has an outgoing personality, and is genuinely owning up to his past indiscretion (lying) and addressing the concerns that he needs better structure surrounding him.
There's little question about Bryant's on the field prowess. He recorded 87 receptions for 1,480 (17.0 avg.) yards to lead the Cowboys in 2008. He ranked second nationally with 19 touchdowns receptions. His average of 113.9 receiving yards per game ranked third nationally, and his 17.94 yards per return also ranked third nationally. In three games before his suspension in 2009, Bryant recorded 17 receptions for 323 yards (19.0 avg.)and 4 TDs.
Bryant is considered Top 10 talent, but is projected to slide further down in the Draft, possibly to the teens. Most of the projections come from those same media types who are not inside war rooms on Draft day and can't reasonably predict where Bryant may actually land.
According to former NFL Scout John Westenhaver, Bryant is a beast.
"Dez Bryant is arguably the best WR in the draft. He has good size and strength and runs ok routes, which will improve with experience," Said Westenhaver relying on his 12 years of scouting experience for Buffalo, San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Westenhaver continued to throw accolades at the talented receiver. "He seems willing to catch in traffic and has been productive in that area which is an indication of above average ball concentration. Speed is not an issue and he should match up well in man on man as well as zone. "
Yet when pressed about those other issues, Westenhaver gave Bryant a vote of confidence.
"I have heard that there are some questions regarding his character but I have also heard that most of that is over blown," Westenhaver continued. " I liked his comment regarding his suspension last year, ‘My biggest regret is that I lied.' That quote speaks volumes to me. Now, big money, that will be the litmus test."
Draft preparations were completed long ago and draft board shave been stocked. Yet a recent report that 10 teams took Bryant off their board surfaced, adding to the debate on whether Bryant is worth the risk. That report followed comments from some notable Draft experts with Insider connections who claim that Bryant could be too risky to take early.
Parker took exception to the term Character issue when asked about those reports. Perhaps the most telling answer Parker gave was a question of his own; "Tell me what that means," Parker asked.
Good point by Parker. When other league sources were asked to define character issues, a few common themes emerged; trouble with the law, a history of violence and/or drug and substance abuse issues.
Bryant has none of those. "He's never been in trouble with the law. He doesn't drink or use drugs. His only problem area was the response he gave to the NCAA when asked about his visit with Sanders," Parker explained.
Though on Draft day we're likely to hear the talking heads tell us why certain players are falling or rising on Draft boards, the reality is that those boards were set long ago. According to league insiders, the entire concept of players moving up or down boards is a really caused by the media experts scrambling to revise their predictions.
Parker agreed. "Some teams may have Jimmy Clausen as the sixth best player on their board while others have him in the teens, or later," Parker said. "That doesn't mean that if he's not chosen by the sixth spot that he is any less of a player, or that he slid, it's just the way some things work out in the Draft."
Parker gave another example of talent dictating draft position. DL Ndamukong Suh, who is rated as the second or third best player in the Draft, should be the first defensive lineman off the board. "People can see what Dez can do just by looking at the film. The same way they can see why Ndamukong is a top player. He has better film than the other guy. "
Suh, projected to be the second player taken off the board is in a similar position as the other DL being talked about, Gerald McCoy who is also projected as a top 5 talent.
But what about those reports that Bryant is sliding and that 10 teams have taken him off their boards?
Parker downplayed the notion, explaining that the feedback he's hearing is that all of the decision makers who meet Bryant likes him. According to Parker, not all teams have WR as a position of need, so to say he's not on their board – at least in Parker's opinion – means that they have other priorities in that round.
Certainly Josh McDaniels falls into the "needing a receiver" camp. After trading troublesome but talented WR Brandon Marshall on Draft week to the Miami Dolphins, Denver is in the market for another wideout. Speculation is that Denver will steer clear of Bryant for those "issues." Yet McDaniels said he's not taking Bryant off his board. To explain why, McDaniels compared character issues to making a mistake, and explained how the two differed.
"This guy has never been arrested, never had a drinking issue and never done anything to put himself in that position. I think he's made a few mistakes that he wishes he hadn't made but I think there's a difference," McDainels said. " You can say well, 'This guy has made a couple mistakes that have been really glorified,' and made a big deal of it and all of the sudden turn him into a really bad kid. That's the farthest thing from the truth relative to [Bryant]. We enjoyed our visit with him and he did everything we asked him to do. He had a smile on his face and he did everything well. I'll tell you this, he's on our board -- there's no question. I know there are other teams that may have taken him off their board but he is not one of the players who is off our board."
McDainels hails from the Bill Belichick coach tree. As a former Patriots offensive coordinator, he understands exactly what type of potential weapon he could have with Bryant on the field. Should the Draft shake out in their favor, you could expect to see Bryant head to Denver at number 11 overall. Should Bryant get past Denver, there are other teams interested, including McDaniels' old boss, Bill Belichick in New England.
The comparisons made between Bryant and other talented receivers in past Drafts culminates with Patriots great Randy Moss. When news about Bryant's apparent slide broke in the media, the draft prospect fought back, likening himself to Moss.
"Whoever passes up on me, it's over with,'' Bryant told Sports Illustrated. "I feel like I'm going through the same situation Randy Moss did. That man had issues and teams were passing up on him, and when he got on that field, he killed them. He murdered them. Look at him today. One of the best players in the NFL.''
But Bryant isn't in the same boat as Moss was. Bryant is in a better situation. Moss had trouble with authority, he had a drug issue and eventually ended up at Marshall after losing a scholarship to Notre Dame and being ousted at Florida State because of those "issues.".
Moss's freefall on Draft day was directly related to a history of risky behavior. That shouldn't be the same comparison according to Parker. Moss slid– if we are to use that term – from a Top 10 talent to 21st overall to the Minnesota Vikings.
Bryant has the skill, but what if he does slide? What does he stand to lose just because he's dealing with this label?
According to salary cap expert J.I. Hasell who worked as a cap manager for the Washington Redskins, the financial loss could be significant. To compare, Halsell used No. 7 overall (Darius Heyward-Bey was 7th in 2009) and No. 21 overall (Moss' spot).
"Based upon guarantees of pick #7 & pick #21 over the past 2 years, in 2010 you're looking at going from $28 million guaranteed at #7 to $11 million guaranteed at #21," Halsell wrote via email Thursday. "[That is] a $17 million loss of money.
Halsell makes a good point that the $17 million is lost money. A rookie contract for the top half of the first round usually lasts 6 years. For picks in the bottom half it's typically 5. That is a long time before Bryant can sign a second deal to recoup his loss.
So is Bryant worth the risk?
According to a number of league sources, there is little risk other than a maturity issue. Bryant has hired a life coach to help keep him on the right path and to alleviate potential concern that money might cause him to stray off the beaten path. According to Parker, Bryant knows he has some adjustments to make in life and the 21 year old is taking responsibility to do so.
How big of a risk could Bryant really be? Certainly in a Patriots system, that would be minimal. If he does slide to the Patriots at 22, there's no doubt Bryant will get that opportunity to make those who pass on him pay. And better yet, he'll get a chance to show the world what two Randy Moss type of receivers can do on offense.
Bryant won't be in New York for the Draft. According to his representatives hell be taking all the action in from a private home in the Dallas area. That's too bad. The football world deserves to see a good kid make it, and Bryant – by all accounts – is a good kid.
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