Evaluating the Betting Odds for Where Dez Bryant Will Play in 2018
The trailers for the film Deadpool reminded me of just how good rapper DMX was, by blasting my ears with the song “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”. Seriously -- if you can’t figure out a Pandora station to get you pumped in the gym, put this on.
When I hear that song, though, I don’t just think of Marvel’s madcap “Merc with a Mouth”; I am reminded of former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and his “throwing up the X” touchdown celebrations. One line in particular reminds of Dez and what he’s had to overcome to make it to pro football: “Ain't never gave nothin’ to me/ But every time I turn around/ Cats got they hands out wantin’ something from me”.
However, after getting cut from the Cowboys this offseason, Bryant faces yet another professional challenge: waiting on free agency. Who will he be throwing up the X for in 2018?
This question isn’t just idle speculation.
Sportsbook YouWager.eu released odds on Dez’s likely destinations for those who like a little offseason action. The odds listed in the table below show how much the return is versus how much one has to wager (i.e. one could win $100 with a $200 wager on the Titans; 1:2).
|New York Giants||3:1|
|Green Bay Packers||4:1|
|San Francisco 49ers||6:1|
|New England Patriots||8:1|
According to beat writers, some of these teams are already unlikely for various reasons: Washington (depth chart), Carolina Panthers (cap space), New York Giants (depth chart), Buffalo Bills (lack of it), San Francisco 49ers (depth chart), and New England Patriots (depth chart).
In addition, when we check Over the Cap’s salary cap space tracker, we can see that the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles both have less salary cap space than the $7 million per year offer Bryant turned down from the Baltimore Ravens earlier this offseason.
With some of this whittled down, we can start to look at the more serious candidates. The table below shows the updated list of teams, as well as their projected top-three wide receivers in 2018.
|Tennessee Titans||1:2||Rishard Matthews||Corey Davis||Taywan Taylor|
|Houston Texans||2:1||DeAndre Hopkins||Will Fuller||Keke Coutee|
|Green Bay Packers||4:1||Davante Adams||Randall Cobb||Geronimo Allison|
|Miami Dolphins||10:1||Kenny Stills||DeVante Parker||Danny Amendola|
|Seattle Seahawks||10:1||Doug Baldwin||Tyler Lockett||Brandon Marshall|
|Arizona Cardinals||12:1||Larry Fitzgerald||Chad Williams||Christian Kirk|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||13:1||Marqise Lee||Donte Moncrief||D.J. Chark|
|Denver Broncos||15:1||Demaryius Thomas||Emmanuel Sanders||Courtland Sutton|
We can fact-check these odds by examining last year’s production by numberFire’s signature analytic, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score production, we can see just how much each play and each team influences the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
Based on that, which team needs him the most?
Grand Ole Opening: Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans -- the presumptive favorites -- do appear to have a large enough opening to fit in Bryant. Tennessee had just three wide receivers surpass even five targets in 2017, and two of them -- Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews -- have been dealing with injuries during OTAs. The other, veteran Eric Decker, walked in free agency.
Dez is an even more compelling option for an offense that excelled in red-zone production in 2016 but regressed hard in that area last season. The tables below show the team’s Reception NEP per target and Reception Success Rate (percentage of catches creating positive value) inside the 20- and 10-yard lines in both 2016 and 2017, compared to Bryant’s marks in those areas.
|2016||Field Position||Catch Rate||Rec NEP/Tgt||Rec Success Rate|
|Dez Bryant||Inside 10||28.6%||1.73||100.0%|
|Dez Bryant||Inside 20||46.2%||2.26||100.0%|
|2017||Field Position||Catch Rate||Rec NEP/Tgt||Rec Success Rate|
|Dez Bryant||Inside 10||40.0%||1.42||75.0%|
|Dez Bryant||Inside 20||55.0%||0.89||54.5%|
Despite a horrific catch rate (Bryant is notorious for his drops), Bryant still put up more value per opportunity than the average Tennessee player in each of the last two years, both in goal-to-go situations and in the red-zone as a whole. This is a role he could certainly excel in as the Titans are poised to make another playoff run, and it explains why they are an excellent bet here.
Not-So-Lone Star: Houston Texans
If Tennessee doesn’t sign him, are the Houston Texans a legitimate landing spot for Bryant?
Similar to the Titans, the Texans have just one wide receiver who saw a sizable amount of targets in 2017. Unlike Tennessee, however, Houston has a receiver who excels as physical dominator. Per NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, DeAndre Hopkins averaged just 2.1 yards of separation per target last year; Bryant was just above him at 2.4. This shows a pair of receivers that don’t win with speed or with outright elusiveness, they need to use their strength at the catch point to succeed.
The only difference is that Hopkins was successful with this profile, while Bryant was not. On 174 targets last year, Hopkins posted 0.73 Reception NEP per target; Bryant earned 0.55 on 131. Hopkins had a 92.7 percent Reception Success Rate; Bryant’s was just 82.35 percent. Nuk and Dez do the same thing, but the Texans already have the one that’s better at it.
Signing with Houston would allow Dez to remain in his home state of Texas, and they could use depth as they seek to make good on their second-best playoff odds in the division (behind Jacksonville). But Bryant’s prospective role with them is unclear, making them a much shakier bet.
Say Cheese: Green Bay Packers
The team with the third-best odds would definitely have the biggest impact on Bryant’s ability to produce numbers in 2018.
The Green Bay Packers have Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and then a big question mark on their wide receiver depth chart. However, Green Bay already let one aging possession slot receiver go this offseason, when they cut Jordy Nelson (33), whose waning skills appear to mirror those of Dez (29).
Nelson and Bryant both had major down years in 2015 -- Dez’s coming from ineffectiveness and Jordy’s from a season-ending ACL tear. Outside of that season, though, both have had gradual declines toward and below their teammates' average Reception NEP per target. Bryant perhaps has a bit more left in the tank, as he’s four years younger, but this would mean the Packers would be essentially getting a player identical to the one they cut ties with earlier this offseason, but at a potentially higher price and with more question marks as it pertains to on-field chemistry.
In addition, with Cobb and Adams projected to soak up close to 250 targets (essentially 70 percent of the team’s wide receiver looks from last year), Bryant’s presence would be a hindrance to the development of the receivers Green Bay brought in via the draft this year. Bryant would work here, but in the bigger picture, the fit doesn’t make sense.
Although the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, and Denver Broncos all need receiver help, although none of them are realistic playoff contenders -- a quality Bryant might require to sign on at this point. The Seattle Seahawks might be out, too, as they already signed veteran and big-bodied wide receiver Brandon Marshall this offseason. Adding another big personality and inside option may not work.
The Jaguars should covet Bryant’s possession presence and likelihood of working in the slot to mitigate his slowed speed. With speedy receivers like Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, and rookie D.J. Chark to stretch the field on the outside, Bryant could provide a physical target over the middle for quarterback Blake Bortles. This would perhaps be one of the better landing spots for Dez, who could also be the true star on the offensive side for this budding, young team. And it's all the more intriguing when you add in the tasty 13:1 odds.
In addition, “the field” represents the 16 other teams not given odds by YouWager.eu. If you consider each team to have an equal chance to sign Bryant (though that’s not exactly true), selecting this option means you have a 50-50 chance to win the biggest payoff possible.
If you play it safe with your bets, the Titans make a lot of sense as a landing spot for Dez. If you want to make a big splash, fellow AFC South contenders the Jaguars are the best bet. If you want to go for the wild card, “the field” gives you the best upside of them all.