Our resident scouting superhero, Al, andÂ I haveÂ engaged inÂ a discussion through the comments of a couple of different articles here on YDCFF about the value of Dez Bryant to a championship team.
You can read Al’s well-reasoned article hereÂ about the need to build the defense in order for the Cowboys to enjoy sustained success. The other half of our discussion was taking place in the comments section of my Cowboy’sÂ season wrap up .Â Where Al & I disagree is in the value of Dez Bryant as a true number one receiver. Most ofÂ his comments are in line with my own opinions about needs on defense with the exception of the fact that I am not sold that Rolando McClain is a must sign. Where my opinion diverges greatlyÂ from my esteemed colleague the most is in his assessment of Dez asÂ a receiver. There are some pointed comments by Drew PearsonÂ that are referenced toÂ advance the theory thatÂ BryantÂ hasn’t developed as a route runner and thus has lessÂ value.
â€œHeâ€™s not living up to the expectations that were placed on him by wearing that number,â€ Pearson said.
â€œDrew Pearson took it to the Ring of Honor level and Michael Irvin took it way beyond that to the Hall of Fame level.â€
â€œWhen Michael and I had a chance to talk to Dez when he came in his rookie year we told him, â€˜Donâ€™t do what Drew Pearson did in it. Donâ€™t do what Michael did in it. Do more than that.â€™ I know thatâ€™s a lot to live up to, but what else is there? You live up to those expectations and people will cherish you for the rest of your life.â€
You can find the full context of Pearson’s comments here. The problem is that those commentsÂ are from the summer of 2012 and they were as much about his off field incident that summer with his mother as his on field performance.Â In reviewing Bryant in 2010, 2011 & even early 2012 there was merit to thinking he was limited in his grasp of the offense and his ability to effectively executeÂ the playbook. IÂ think that assessment of Bryant’s development as a receiver is antiquated. He has had three seasons of growth since those commentsÂ were made in which he has become the two most important things a #1 receiver can be: someone the opposition has to game plan multiple defenders toÂ defend regularly and someone who can be trusted to come down with the ball in critical situations against the opponent’s best cover guy.
Al commented that “Odell Beckham was right on his heels as a rookie.”
By bringing up OBJ, Al actually makes my point. The first comparison that popped into the head of one of the best scouts I know for Dez Bryant is a WR considered a once in generation talent &Â that is still young enough to continue to get better. I highly respect Al’s eye for talent and IÂ think he is right about both of these young men.
Where I feel it is easy to miss the point is that talent acquisition is about value and value is not determined simply by a certain skill set thatÂ an individual evaluator prefers. Value isÂ established by what it costs to replace the player’s skills & production as well as what those skills and production are worth intrinsically. For example, DeMarco Murray’s value is lowered significantlyÂ because RB is considered easily replaceable in this current NFL environment. Another way to view that value isÂ by taking a look at one guy we both love, Cole Beasley.
Al has been very vocal with his support of the skill set that Beasley provides the Cowboys, to the point of stating that if the team used him as much as Dez he would have top 10 numbers. If that were true, then Dez would absolutely not be worth #1 receiver money. As you can probably guess, I do not agree with this assessment of Beasley. I do love Beasley’s game but his value isÂ based on the fact thatÂ the next time he runs a route against an opponent’sÂ #1 corner will be the first. Beasley is phenomenal as a matchup nightmare for 4th corners and 3rd safeties because his high football IQ makes up for his physical limitations against inferior defenders who can’t press him based on where he lines up in the formation. He is a great example of a player that has maximized his God-given ability but to project him as more than that is common scoutingÂ mistake in my opinion.
Let’s look at this valuation discussion in another way. Almost every comparable player with Beasley in terms of skill set & usage was obtained by their original team as a UDFA (undrafted free agent). Some examples are Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola. Julian Edelman is also similar and he was only a 7th round pick. I bet Al’s discerning eye will be able toÂ find at least 2-3 receivers with this same skill set in his scouting work for the 2015 draft. Let’s go back to the first comp that popped up to out veteran scout for Dez. Odell Beckham had the best rookie season of the best rookie WR draft class since 1996 and heÂ projects to continue to grow into his superstar status over the next few years. He was acquired with the most valuable of NFL commodities, a first round pick, as was Dez Bryant himself. If a player’s skill setÂ can be routinely replaced by UDFA’s and 7th round picks then no matter the value of the skill itself, the player has very low value. Conversely, if the skill set can only be replaced by investing 9 million a year or with a 1st round draft pickÂ thenÂ that player’s value is extremely high.
What Dez Bryant’s valueÂ should be based upon is the cost to required forÂ a replacement for EVERYTHING he does for the Cowboys. A top receiver is absolutely more valuable than a top running back when reviewed in terms of replacement cost. #1 receivers on their second contract average around 9 million per year. The legitimate question Al’s article brings up is this: “what is the value of a #1 receiver to a championship contender?” This is a great question and for the answer I look to the team after which Jason Garrett is modeling this current squad. Those 90’s Cowboys were built to play fast & take the ball away on defense with a stud #1 RB and a stud #1 WR & an ultra accurate QB. Sound familiar?
I know many people whose opinions I respect, like Al, think the Cowboys can make do without Dez. I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t think Bryant is being overvalued. In fact, I don’t think heÂ gets enough credit for how important he is to the team’s success.Â He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and everyone in that locker room saysÂ he sets the tone for the entire team every dayÂ in practice much like that stud #1 WR (Michael Irvin)Â did in the 90’s.Â That alone makes him extremely valuable to the team’s success because his intensity in preparation makes all of his teammates prepare that much harder.
One of my biggest complaints about the Cowboys over the previous decade is that they had talented players and even leaders but no lead DOGS. No one whose intensity ratcheted up the play of the rest of the team. That is whatÂ Irvin was for those teams and that is what Bryant is now to this team. Add to that, unrivaled athleticism as demonstrated by the catch shown in the picture above and the featured image for this article and we have a player that brings a passion and skillÂ setÂ that I feel is vital to the Cowboys ability to compete for championships in the waning years of the RomoÂ era.
Where do you fall in this discussion? Is Dez Bryant a luxury or a necessity for the Cowboys moving forward?