A hairline fracture in his knee cost Bryant three games, and he barely played in Week 17 with the Cowboys' No. 1 seed wrapped up. Otherwise Bryant was largely the player who lit up the league from 2012-14. Prorate Bryant's stats over a full 16 games, and you get 67 catches for 1,061 yards and 11 scores, despite playing in a run-heavy offense with an unfamiliar QB. Perhaps more importantly, Bryant doesn't seem to have lost his explosiveness -- his 15.9 YPC was the highest average of his career and placed him fifth among the league's 46 95-target WR. And these stats don't count the team's playoff loss to the Packers when he lit them up for 9-132-2 on 12 targets. The Cowboys made no significant additions to the offense this offseason, so Bryant should again be the team's No. 1 target, both down the field and in the red zone where he has always excelled. The biggest issue is durability -- Bryant's missed 10 games over the last two seasons -- but he's still only 28 and went into the offseason with a clean bill of health. The Cowboys will still be a run-first team, but rising star QB Dak Prescott will have a season under his belt and a better rapport with Bryant with whom he connected more reliably late in the year -- including the playoffs, Bryant eclipsed 70 yards in seven of his final eight full games and scored eight touchdowns.
There's nothing to take away from Bryant's abbreviated 2015 season, played entirely on a bad foot with a gaggle of replacement-level QBs aiming the ball in his general direction. With Tony Romo healthy, and Bryant on schedule after offseason surgery, last year's outlook largely applies: "The league's premier touchdown catcher ... Bryant led the NFL with 16 in 2014, running his total from 2012.14 to 41. Unlike Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, who did their damage with north of 180 targets, Bryant checked in 12th overall (137), tied for 18th in the red zone (15) and seventh inside the 10 (10). At 6.2, 220, with 4.5 speed, Bryant has the specs you'd want from a No. 1 WR, and he plays even bigger and more physical." The principal difference is while last year DeMarco Murray's departure left a void to be filled, in part, by more targets to Bryant, this year, the Cowboys signed RB Alfred Morris and drafted the premier college RB, Ezekiel Elliott, fourth overall. With Darren McFadden coming off a strong year, and 36-year-old Romo among the league's most brittle QBs, we have to imagine the Cowboys intend to lead the league in run/pass ratio (they were 3rd in 2014). As such, while Bryant should again be the unquestioned top target, he's unlikely to approach the volume of players like Brown, Jones or DeAndre Hopkins.
The league's premier touchdown catcher — other than maybe a healthy Rob Gronkowski — Bryant led the NFL with 16 last season, running his three-year total to 41. Unlike Demaryius Thomas and Antonio Brown, who did their damage with north of 180 targets, Bryant checked in 12th overall (137), tied for 18th in the red-zone (15) and seventh inside the 10 (10). Bryant tied for second in goal-line targets with eight, however, a hallmark of Scott Linehan's play calling since his days with the Dolphins when even Chris Chambers got double-digit scores. At 6-2, 220, with 4.5 speed, Bryant has the specs you'd want from a No. 1 NFL receiver, and he plays even bigger and more physical than that. Bryant's 9.6 YPT placed seventh among the league's 41 100-target wideouts, and his 22 catches for 20-plus yards was fifth. Entering 2015, Bryant's role could potentially grow. While the Cowboys return an all-world offensive line and quarterback Tony Romo, they are thin at wide receiver with only the disappointing Terrance Williams and slot man Cole Beasley providing experienced depth. Moreover, Jason Witten turned 33 in May, and workhorse tailback DeMarco Murray is in Philadelphia. Given the strength of the line and the team's success a year ago, one would think Dallas will again feature a run-heavy scheme, but at press time, it's hard to envision the backfield options (individually or collectively) absorbing Murray's 392-carry load. That could portend more work for Bryant.
By some metrics Bryant’s 2013 season was a disappointment. Despite being sixth in targets (160), Bryant was only 13th in yards, thanks to a pedestrian 7.7 YPT (23rd among the league’s 37 100-target WR) and 13.3 YPC (20th). And this was on a Cowboys team that finished 13th in YPA (7.2). Moreover, Bryant had only four catches of 40 or more yards (tied for 17th) and 13 of 20 or more (tied for 23rd). In short, Bryant simply wasn’t the dominant game-breaking receiver that took the league by storm in the second half of 2012. At 25, it’s unlikely Bryant has lost a step, however, and at 6-2, 222 with 4.5-speed, he has the physical tools to make plays down the field. And Bryant’s size and red-zone usage ensure him a high floor for touchdowns – he led the league with 16 targets inside the 10 last year, catching seven for scores. The arrival of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, whose track record of targeting No. 1 receivers heavily in the end zone spans more than a decade, will only help. Perhaps most importantly, Bryant was injury free and played 16 games for the second year in a row. And there were neither off-field indiscretions nor problems in the locker room, unless you count a media misinterpretation of Bryant trying to rally his teammates on the sidelines.
After spending two seasons as a punch line, both from his bizarre off-field behavior and tendency to disappear late in games, Bryant exploded for a 50-879-10 line over last season's final eight games, cementing himself as one of the league's elite receivers.
At 6-2, 218 and with athleticism, quickness and downfield speed, Bryant is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the league. His 10.0 YPT ranked second among the league's 39 100-target wideouts, thanks in large part to a 67-percent catch rate, a rarity for someone who operates down the field.
Bryant made his share of big plays – his six catches of 40-plus tied for second with two other players, though in most seasons that wouldn’t crack the top five, and he had 19 plays of 20-plus (6th). But he saw only 15 targets in the red zone (25th) and six targets from inside the 10 (23rd).
Heading into 2013, Bryant is now Tony Romo's undisputed No. 1 wideout, irrespective of Miles Austin's erratic health, and that Bryant put up a top-three season without being targeted heavily in the red zone means there's still untapped upside for the 24-year old who is just now entering his prime.
Bryant had successful surgery to repair his broken left index finger in January, and a back injury limited him during the offseason. Nonetheless, he's expected to be 100 percent healthy for training camp.
With Miles Austin slowed for much of the season by a hamstring injury, Bryant managed to play in 15 games, saw 103 targets and scored nine touchdowns. He was also fairly efficient, averaging 9.0 YPT (12th) and showed excellent hands (just two drops). But nagging injuries and an apparent lack of focus (and possibly conditioning) are still issues as Bryant often seemed to disappear during the second halves of games. In fact, Bryant had 37 catches for 558 yards and seven scores in the first two quarters and just 25-344-2 in the latter two. At 6-2, 220, and with excellent speed and quickness for his size, there’s little doubt Bryant has elite tools. But given his inconsistency, he’s likely to be Tony Romo’s No. 3 option so long as Austin and tight end Jason Witten (117 targets) are healthy. That’s far from a death sentence to his value, however, as the Cowboys, having let Laurent Robinson leave via free agency, lack experienced depth at the position.
After missing most of training camp with an ankle sprain, Bryant suited up for Week 1, but didn't really come into his own until Week 7 against the Giants when he hauled in two touchdowns and returned a punt 93 yards for a score. Bryant went on to have a stretch of three straight 80-plus yard games with Jon Kitna at the helm, but went down for the season in Week 13 with a fractured fibula. In sum, Bryant's season totals and even per-play numbers as a rookie who missed training camp with an injury and played half of his 12 games with a backup quarterback aren't very instructive. It's Bryant's off-the-charts tools – 6-2, 220, good hands, great quickness for a player his size, downfield speed – that make him so intriguing. He also has an ideal quarterback in Tony Romo to get him the ball down the field, and Bryant's expected to be 100 percent healthy for the start of camp. The bigger issue is whether there are enough balls to go around for Bryant, Miles Austin and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.
Character concerns caused Bryant to slip in
the first round, but there’s little doubt about his
talent. At 6-2, 220, Bryant’s athletic, powerful
and plays with a mean streak. He has good
hands, excellent quickness for a player his size
and decent downfield speed. And while Bryant’s
had issues being on time for team activities, he’s
hardly a hardened criminal or “clubhouse
While Bryant will almost certainly begin as
the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Miles Austin
and Roy Williams, we expect him to see significant
action sooner rather than later. For
starters, owner Jerry Jones likened moving up
to draft Bryant as making amends for passing
on Randy Moss in 1998, and so far Bryant
hasn’t disappointed, impressing Cowboys
coaches during the team’s rookie minicamp in
May. Moreover, the Cowboys are built to win
now, so it’s likely they’re looking for an immediate
return on their first-round investment.