Dez Bryant, Disaster Seasons, and Bounce Back Rates

Source: Dez Bryant believes his 2015 struggles were more mental than physical.

Bryant alluded to a lack of trust in his surgically-repaired foot, saying it had him “off (his) game.” Bryant, who was limited throughout the offseason program, says he’s going to “focus on the positive things going forward.” Bryant’s disastrous 2015 was equal parts mental, playing at far less than 100 percent and missing Tony Romo. He should have a robust bounce back during his age-28 campaign.

Jacob Rickrode is going “all in” on Dez Bryant in 2016, and he’s far from the only one. Bryant has a first-round ADP in best ball leagues, where he’s being drafted as the sixth wide receiver. That terrifies me.

Bryant’s 2015 was disastrous. The closest comparison I could find (based on age, prior performance, and drop off) was Roy Williams. Before you argue that Williams isn’t good enough to carry Bryant’s pads, look at this:

Dez Bryant 2016 Dez-Roy Age 27

Touchdowns aside, Bryant and Williams were virtually identical in their age 25 and 26 seasons. And both had catastrophic falls from grace at age 27. To be sure, the causes were different. Williams was traded from Detroit to Dallas in the middle of his age 27 season. Bryant battled through injury and poor quarterback play in 2015. And, of course, one comparison doesn’t tell us much about Bryant’s future.

So I used the RotoViz Screener to learn about other recent WR disaster seasons (and how the players bounced back, if at all). Here are my sort criteria:

  • Played at least 20 games in seasons 1 and 2 (baseline seasons)
  • Gained at least 70 receiving yards per game in seasons 1 and 2
  • Played at least 8 games in season 3 (disaster season)
  • Yards per game dropped at least 25 percent in season 3
  • Played at least 8 games in season 4 (bounce back season)

And here are the results,1 sorted by worst disaster season compared to the baseline:

PLAYERBB SeasBB ageBase yds/GDis yds/GDis/BaseBB yds/gBB/BaseBB%
Roy Williams20092877310.40400.5212%
Chad Johnson20093188420.47650.7527%
Steve Smith20113282390.48871.0758%
Dez Bryant20162880450.56???
Curtis Conway20043371400.57270.38-19%
Greg Jennings20133076460.60540.7010%
Pierre Garcon20152977470.61490.632%
Steve Smith20143580500.62670.8321%
Larry Fitzgerald20133080500.63600.7512%
Brandon Marshall20153187550.63941.0744%
Isaac Bruce20063473480.65690.9429%
Wes Welker20143391600.66330.36-29%
Joe Horn20063477500.66680.8923%
Roddy White20143383550.66660.8013%
Terrell Owens20103778520.66760.9730%
Amani Toomer20053175500.66430.57-9%
Andre Johnson20153494620.66310.33-33%
Keenan McCardell20033372480.67731.0134%
Steve Smith (NYG)20112688590.67870.9932%
Derrick Mason20073370470.67680.9730%
Torry Holt20093374500.67480.64-3%
Wes Welker20113084570.67981.1750%
Rod Smith20033395640.68560.59-8%
Anquan Boldin20113177520.68630.8314%
Randy Moss20052893640.69630.67-1%
Muhsin Muhammad20063372500.69540.755%
Calvin Johnson201530115830.72760.66-6%
Marvin Harrison20053397700.72760.786%
Mike Wallace20132777560.73580.763%
DeSean Jackson20163081590.73???
Steve Smith (CAR/BAL)20082991660.731011.1138%
Hakeem Nicks20132579580.73600.763%
Reggie Wayne20123482600.73851.0330%
Randy Moss20062986630.73430.50-24%
Jerry Rice20044273540.74290.39-35%
Rod Smith20043476560.74720.9420%
Eddie Kennison20073473540.74130.17-56%
Plaxico Burress20042773540.74620.8511%
Sidney Rice20122672540.74470.65-10%
David Boston20032586640.74630.73-2%
Larry Fitzgerald20102791680.75710.783%
Santana Moss20072875560.75580.772%

Ignoring Bryant and DeSean Jackson, who also had a disaster season in 2015, only 10 of 40 WRs bounced back 90 percent of their baseline yards per game. And younger players don’t have an obvious bounce back advantage. Of 14 bounce back candidates age 29 or younger, only Steve Smith (NYG) and Steve Smith (CAR/BAL) returned to 90 percent of their baseline production. That’s better than the general population, but it’s also a very small sample. On closer inspection, though, Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss must be considered success stories. And guys like Hakeem Nicks and Sidney Rice have obvious injury explanations for their lack of elasticity.

So despite the overall low hit rate, I’m walking away from this analysis more optimistic about Bryant than I was coming in. I’m still not drafting him in the first 18 picks of redraft or dynasty leagues, so I probably won’t have him on many rosters. But it’s easy to spin a story that Bryant is more likely to bounce back than other WRs who’ve suffered disaster seasons.

  1. “BB” = “bounce back”; “Base” = “baseline”; “Dis” = “disaster”  (back)

Brian Malone

Brian is very much like other people.

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