Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys and Josh Wilson #26 of the Washington Redskins at Cowboys Stadium on November 22, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.
After failing to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in his first two seasons in the NFL, Dez Bryant erupted for 92 receptions, 1,382 yards, and 12 touchdowns in 2012. Those numbers are outstanding, but they’re hardly Bryant’s ceiling. Truth be told, Bryant wasn’t properly utilized for much of the season. Despite Tony Romo’s 123.2 passer rating when targeting Bryant—the third-best for any quarterback to any receiver—Bryant saw just the 11th-most targets in the league with 137.
Even worse, only 24 of those targets came at least 20 yards downfield. That 17.5 percent deep target rate ranked Bryant just 45th in the NFL, and that’s actually the highest he’s ever finished. That’s astonishing for a player with perhaps the best downfield ball skills in the entire league.
In trying to project Bryant in 2013, the key is determining how many passes will go his way. Over the second half of the 2012 season, Bryant saw nine targets per game. With increased defensive attention, that’s probably where he’ll finish this year, giving him 144 targets.
Bryant caught 67.2 percent of his targets last year, but that rate will almost assuredly drop in 2013. For starters, No. 1 receivers rarely catch two-thirds of their targets. That’s because they typically see the most targets on the team, and as the frequency increases, their efficiency tends to drop. If Bryant catches 64 percent of his 2013 targets—a more realistic mark given the anticipated increase in defensive attention—he’ll again haul in 92 passes.
Bryant averaged 10.1 yards per target last year. Again, since the quality of his targets is likely to decrease, that number will probably drop a bit. At 9.8 yards per target, Bryant would post 1,411 yards in 2013.
Finally, we need to project Bryant’s touchdowns. Bryant is a touchdown machine because he can score from any spot on the field and, due to his stature, he’s a big-time red zone threat. Over the course of his three-year career, Bryant has taken 13.5 percent of his receptions into the end zone. That’s an outstanding mark, but I think it could increase this year. The primary reason is that the Cowboys should be in the red zone more often, so a higher percentage of Bryant’s looks will come in scoring situations. At a 15.0 percent touchdown rate, Bryant’s most likely touchdown total would be 14.
Final 2013 Projection: 92 receptions, 1,411 yards, 14 touchdowns
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.