Dealing With the Dez Bryant Injury in Fantasy Football
In the Dallas Cowboys' Week 1 opener on Sunday Night Football, they pieced together a last-minute comeback to avoid starting the year 0-1. However, they didn't escape without a loss.
That's bad news for the Cowboys, and to lose a guy who was probably your fantasy football team's first- or second-round pick in the first week of the season is a devastating blow for owners.
You have to think about this the way Tony Romo thought about it immediately after the game. He said, "Nobody is going to be Dez Bryant, but the guys can do what they do well." Once we get that out of the way, we can move forward in figuring out how to deal with the injury moving forward realistically.
The Dez Output
The fact of the matter is that you may be able to replicate Dez Bryant's fantasy output overall by working the matchups, but on a week-to-week, must-start basis, you just are not going to find that consistency on the wire.
Our Net Expected Point metric, which is our signature metric that we use to measure how much a player adds or detracts from his team's expectation to score points, can help identify just how elite Bryant was last year. You can read more about it in our glossary.
Dez Bryant received the 12th most targets of anyone in the league last year, and he was an absolute monster with those targets. Among players with at least 48 receptions, Bryant ranked second in Reception NEP per target (0.94), trailing only Kenny Stills (1.04). In terms of overall Reception NEP, Bryant finished in the top five (127.79).
On the last two Cowboys' drives of the game, when it was announced Bryant was being checked for a foot injury, the Cowboys continued to move the ball through the air efficiently.
On the second to last drive for the Cowboys, Romo had six completions evenly split between Jason Witten (who wound up catching the touchdown on that drive), Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams. On the Cowboys' final drive, Witten had another two receptions, Williams had one more reception, and Lance Dunbar had two receptions. It's a small sample size and was game-script dependent, but Williams had three of his five receptions once Dez Bryant was out, and Witten had the same number of receptions in the last two drives as he had in the rest of the game.
It appears from this sample size that Witten will be the favorite for end zone and red zone targets in passing situations.
If you want a Cowboys' wide receiver to target, though, consider Williams. Williams, who has a similar height (they're both 6'2") and somewhat similar weight (Bryant is 225 pounds to Williams' 208), seems likely to be the Bryant fill-in from a scheme perspective. Williams is owned in about 45% of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, so it's more likely than not he's available.
Plus, among 51 receivers with between 30 and 80 targets last year, Williams' 0.95 Reception NEP per target was second only to the touchdown-heavy Martavis Bryant's which also rounded to 0.95.
Now, Cole Beasley did maintain a Reception NEP per target of 0.72 last year on 49 targets, ranking him 15th in that group, and his fantasy points per 100 snaps (14.2) actually graded a respectable 39th at the position and was just a bit more than Williams' mark of 13.5, but Williams more than doubled Beasley's red zone targets last year (13 to 6). Considering that Bryant himself saw only 15 red zone targets on a run-first team in the red zone, that's not a bad mark for the 6'2" Williams.
Again, you cannot realistically expect Bryant-level output from Williams over the next few weeks -- after all, Bryant's 25.2 fantasy points per 100 snaps last year ranked top at the position among player with at least 300 snaps -- but his value definitely should increase while Bryant is out, and he was efficient on his chances last season.
Looking Beyond the Cowboys
Of course, you don't have to roster a Cowboy to help mitigate the loss.
One player you might want to target is James Jones, who will likely be a popular pick up. Owned in only 30% of ESPN.com leagues, Jones was a huge touchdown vulture last week for the Packers, scoring twice. Jones has always had a remarkable ability to score touchdowns, and it looks like that's going to continue as he's back in Green Bay.
If you are allowed to use tight end as a flex position, Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be a nice pick up while Dez is out. The Tampa tight end scored two garbage time touchdowns in Week 1 and has a nice schedule while Dez is on the sidelines. In the next five weeks, Tampa will play the Saints (who just gave up 82 yards and a touchdown to Darren Fells, the Arizona Cardinals' tight end), the Texans (who gave up a monstrous, two-touchdown game to Travis Kelce, the Chiefs' tight end), and the Redskins (who gave up 73 yards to Jordan Cameron, the Dolphins' tight end). That's three weeks where you can cobble together what should be solid opportunities.
Ultimately that's what you have to do if you lost Dez: figure out a way to get through the next six weeks. Seferian-Jenkins might be a nice piece towards doing that.
Again, playing the matchups are your best bet, as Bryant's upside is hard to replace. Williams could prove formidable, but he will now be the top wide receiver as opposed to the man playing opposite one of the most dangerous weapons in the game.
That said, if you had Dez in fantasy, you are not the first guy to lose a key player in Week 1, and you won't be the last. The most important thing right now is to focus on team schedules for the next four to six weeks and to find pass catchers who have two or three weeks where you might be able to start them.
If you have Dez, Williams is probably your target because he figures to get the highest boost. He's got a pretty high ownership percentage already though, so you may have to look elsewhere.
Just keep in mind, you probably aren't picking up a guy for the long haul here. You just need to optimize your matchups for the next six weeks and maintain while Bryant recovers.