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Dez Bryant Will Be True No. 1 in 2012

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Dez Bryant is immature. He’s a young kid that undoubtedly still has a lot of growing up to do. He’s also going to have a breakout season in 2012.

    On the field, everything has been going right for Bryant during the offseason and in training camp. Teammates have raved about Bryant all year, and he’s reportedly in the best shape of his life. His dominance in the first half of games last season—when he hauled in 59.7 percent of his receptions, 61.9 percent of his yards, and 77.8 percent of his touchdowns—should carry over to the final two quarters in 2012.

    Here’s why.

    Over the past two years, only 18.7 percent of Bryant’s targets came on passes that were thrown 20 or more yards. The playmaker has ranked only 51st and 54th in deep target rate over the past two years, according to Pro Football Focus. With Bryant’s undeniable ball skills, it’s a guarantee you’ll see his deep ball rate increase in 2012.

    In turn, you’ll see Bryant’s yards-per-catch improve as well. Due to an abundance of quick screens in his rookie year, Bryant totaled just 12.6 YPC that season. It jumped to 14.7 YPC last year. With more deep passes surely on the way and greater yards-after-catch sure to follow (it was 4.9 per reception in 2011), you’ll likely see Bryant check in somewhere around 15.5 YPC this season.

    With more deep targets, you might expect Bryant’s catch rate to plummet. After all, it sure is easier to catch a screen than a deep post. Last year, Bryant caught 63.0 percent of passes his way. In his rookie year, it was 63.4 percent.

    Those numbers are actually a bit low for a player who has seen the majority of his targets come near the line-of-scrimmage. Actually, 51.5 percent of Bryant’s 171 career targets have been thrown nine yards of fewer. Thus, even with more deep looks, I think you’ll see Bryant’s catch rate of around 63.0 percent remain steady in 2012.

    Of course, the main reason Bryant will thrive in 2012 is increased opportunities. Jason Garrett has already labeled Bryant the No. 1 receiver. In the Cowboys’ pass-first offense, the top-receiving threat should garner more than 100 targets—the number Bryant got in 2011. As a point of comparison, Nate Washington, Greg Little, Nate Burleson, Jabar Gaffney, and Darrius Heyward-Bey all received more targets than Bryant last year. Even with Miles Austin and Jason Witten getting their looks, Bryant should acquire a minimum of 125 targets in 2012.

    But what about the stat we all want to see—touchdowns? Bryant has converted an impressive 13.9 percent of his receptions into touchdowns during his short career. With 125 targets and a 63.0 percent catch rate, Bryant would haul in just about 79 receptions in 2012. At a 13.9 percent touchdown rate, we’re looking at 11 scores. I think Cowboys fans would take that.

    So with a little number crunching, we have Bryant’s 2012 stats all figured out. He’s going to see 125 looks and haul in 79 passes. His YPC will jump to 15.5, giving him 1,224 yards on the season. Most importantly, he’s going to score 11 touchdowns. You can take it to the bank.

    So what do you think, Cowboys fans? Do these numbers look good to you?

    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.

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