Film Review: Where Dez Bryant Fits in The Saints Offense

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Signing Dez Bryant might leave Saints fans and fantasy football owners with a lot of questions. Some might say that Dez is washed up, which won’t let him play against the faster, quicker, and stronger cornerbacks in the NFL. That statement might be true, but it doesn’t mean that Dez Bryant can’t be useful for the Saints.

Though Dez Bryant is a mainstay as an outside receiver, positioning him in the slot at times makes some sense for the Saints. Unmistakably, Mike Thomas is and will be the number one receiver (X receiver, outside). The current secondary receiver (Z receiver, outside) is less clear for the Saints. Rookie starter Tre’Quan Smith has performed well in that role, in large part due to his speed stretching the field vertically. Dez will see a significant portion of his snaps in Smith’s role, while he should also see some snaps as a slot receiver (inside, closest to the offensive line). 

Some might argue that playing an originally X receiver in the slot might not work, as it is an entirely different position. Then, Larry Fitzgerald changed that train of thought. Fitzgerald had a career resurgence when he started playing primarily inside in 2015. He caught 109 passes for 1,215 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the three seasons prior; his averages per season were 72 receptions for 845 yards and 5 touchdowns. After seeing Larry Fitzgerald do so well in the slot, Sean Payton can learn from that success and do the same with Dez. Peyton doesn’t mind putting high level outside playmakers in the inside, as he had done so with Marques Colston and recently, Mike Thomas. Sean Payton should do the same, playing Dez Bryant both outside and inside.

Dez directly cannot control the outside of the field for 90 percent of a game anymore. He’s lost a step, he’s not as fast nor does he have the stamina to stretch the field on every play. Therefore, placing the 6’2”220-pound receiver who ran a 4.52 40 yard-dash and jumped for a 38” vertical (2010 OSU pro-day) in the inside at times makes sense. Playing in the slot, he would command defenses to bring their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. Playing safeties closer to the line means that both Mike Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith could find more opportunities down the field and vice versa.

While Dez does drop some balls (52.57 percent catch rate in 2017), he offers a reliable (yet limited) route-tree to go along with strong hands, body control, powerful running after the catch, and a quick release. Dez Bryant is not thought of as a clean route-runner, but he can command the attention of a defense for his well-run crossing routes.

The Saints like to push the ball down the field quickly. Rather than dink and dunk down the field, Sean Payton takes full advantage of Drew Brees’ arm and their exciting running backs. That arm and Sean Peyton’s playcalling will mean big plays for Bryant in the inside of the field, especially on play-action.

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*plays shown are from 2017

Watch how Bryant runs this dig route for a first down. Dez beats the press coverage by switching inside. The inside switch enables for Dez to use his signature long-arm-jab move. That move creates the separation for Dez to run his route cleanly, which he does so perfectly. In three steps Bryant gets to the middle of the field, then stops when he realizes he is in a soft spot of the zone coverage. That stop helps Prescott to find Bryant, while Bryant comes back on an underthrow to make the catch.

On the play below, Bryant runs another dig route. He beats the press coverage with the same long-arm jab, this time with his right arm. The jab creates inside separation, which allows for Dez to cut to the middle of the field in only three steps. He then runs up to the pass in stride for a reception. The dig route will be a common play for Dez both as the Z receiver and in the slot.

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Those routes are where Dez Bryant should get most of his work as a Saint. But, he also is versatile enough to run in a shorter range. His long-arm jab and quick feet should allow for Bryant to create separation both as an outside and inside receiver. Watch how Dez runs a slant route below. He separates quickly from the pressing cornerback, thus allowing him to gain inside leverage. He then tracks the ball to make a reaching catch for a first down.

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Not only can Bryant do his best work while playing inside on crossing patterns, but he is also a monster after the catch. Dez’s ability to gain proper leverage allow for him to showcase how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands.

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Watch how Dez not only runs a crisp slant route, he also finds the soft spot of zone coverage to spot up and wait for Dak to throw it. After the catch, Bryant’s shiftiness and power show as he jukes out a linebacker, then powers through to paydirt. That type of balance, quickness, and power will bring a whole new threat to the Saints offense.

In the red-zone, Dez should see most of his time on the outside. What Dez does best is the fade route in the end zone. His ability to create separation then leap over a defender with good body control and strong hands make him such a significant threat in that area despite his age (30). That dominant fade route hadn’t been showcased as much while playing with Dak Prescott; luckily, Drew Brees should be able to connect with Bryant on fades successfully.

Watch how Dez flashes all of those talents when he does a fade on the inside of a cornerback.

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And now on outside leverage of a cornerback.

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Dez Bryant might have lost a step since his days while playing with Tony Romo, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t command the attention of opposing defenses. Dez is still a solid route-runner, he’s also seen nearly every look a receiver can see in the past eight seasons. Those two things will allow for Dez to seamlessly fit in the New Orleans Saints high powered offense. Combining Dez Bryant with Drew Brees, Mike Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara all under the control of Sean Payton shouldn’t be fair. And it won’t be.

-Avery Duncan

ALL CREDIT TO GIPHY AND NFL FOR GIFS

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