Each of the PFF analysts has had a chance to state their case for players that just missed the Top 101 and there are even more that were the subject of debate for the final few spots. Among the most difficult exclusions was Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. Add to it that wide receiver may have been the deepest, most closely-contested position, and Bryant simply came up short in the end.
We often see various performance “tiers” at any given position, but 2013 was a year of many “very good” performances at wide receiver. It was difficult to separate the top 15 or so at the position, never mind squeezing them into the oft-scrutinized Top 101 list.
The final result saw big names such as A.J. Green and Bryant either lower than most fans would expect (No. 97 for Green) or left off the list completely. While both Green and Bryant are top-5 type talents, they lacked the consistency of some of their peers while their strong raw numbers benefitted from a high volume of targets.
As for Bryant, I went to bat for him throughout the selection process, but he ultimately failed to make the list (I like to think he’s at least No. 102).
Had the Top 101 been voted on for the first half of the season, Bryant would have been a lock after he graded at +12.0 overall in his first eight games. He picked up eight of his 13 touchdowns while dropping only three passes and notching three games with at least 100 receiving yards. He graded “in the green” in five of his eight games, including four impressive performances with at least a +2.0 grade or better.
Whether outjumping cornerback Brandon Flowers to pick up a 53-yard catch-and-run against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 or outrunning and weaving through the Denver Broncos’ defense on his way to a 79-yard gain in Week 5, Bryant’s big play ability was on display throughout the first half. He was the Cowboys’ go-to receiver and he produced like one.
While Dez didn’t grade in the red once in the first half, he kicked off the second half with a disastrous performance in Week 9 that saw him drop two passes and commit two penalties. The drops became the norm for the rest of the season as eight of his 11 came in the second half. He also picked up two of his three fumbles. It was mostly a four-game stretch that saw him grade at -6.2 between Weeks 9 and 13 that did him in.
Despite bouncing back with a dominant +3.9 outing in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers, it marked the only game in the green for Bryant in the entire second half, a drop-off that was too much to overcome. He still made his fair share of plays, but the drops and fumbles littered his play and he was a non-factor in multiple games.
There’s no doubting Bryant’s talent and it certainly wouldn’t shock to see him back near the top of the PFF 101 in a year’s time. I need to reiterate the surrounding talent at the wide receiver positions as it was his competition that helped to push him off the list. Players like Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson, Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, and Marques Colston were able to play a more consistent brand of football while largely avoiding the midseason lull that ultimately cost Bryant a spot.
Just going through Bryant’s positives and negatives have me going back and forth about Bryant’s inclusion on the list. He has the ability to take over and dominate a game, and he certainly did that his fair share of the time in 2013, but his pedestrian finish is tough to overlook. When combined with the deep class of wide receivers, it made it difficult to find a place for Bryant, though I still think he should have landed somewhere in the 90’s.
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