The Saints on Wednesday signed Dez Bryant, adding him not only to a stable of receivers that includes a legitimate superstar in Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith and Cameron Meredith, but also one of the best offenses in the league. Will Bryant develop into a key weapon for Drew Brees? Will he be able to find enough work alongside Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to be a regular starter in fantasy leagues? Is he worth grabbing in fantasy leagues?
The short answers to those three questions: It's doubtful, it's even more doubtful, and absolutely
Let's start with the last one. Bryant is easily worth claiming in almost all fantasy formats for a few reasons. In fact, I've already put in claims for him in most of my leagues. First, depth is never a bad thing to have, especially with 12 teams still to go on bye this season. Second, he is now part of an elite, fantasy-friendly offense that ranks second in points per game, seventh in yards per game, and sixth in yards per play. Third, his best days may be behind him, but he has an excellent track record. Finally, there's no downside to grabbing him off the wire and seeing how he grows into his role in the Saints offense.
Having said that, there are a lot of factors working against Bryant’s fantasy viability. Most obviously, he hasn’t played a competitive football game in nearly a year. There’s no reason to doubt that Bryant has kept himself in shape, but there’s a big difference between civilian shape, even for a 30-year-old who has played high-level football his entire life, and NFL game shape. Additionally, the last we saw of Bryant wasn’t exactly impressive. He turned into a plodding, possession-style receiver in his final two years in Dallas, catching 119 passes on 230 targets for 1,634 yards in 29 games. He remained a touchdown machine, finding the end zone 14 times in those 29 games, but it’s the receptions and yards that do a better job of projecting future value, and his per-game averages of 4.1 catches and 56.3 yards don’t inspire much confidence.
Remember, too, that Bryant was always the No. 1 option in the passing game in Dallas, save for his rookie year when Miles Austin was putting together one last great season. That helped him become one of the league’s most proficient scorers, posting three straight seasons with at least 12 touchdowns from 2012 through 2014. In New Orleans, he’ll be the fourth option, at best, when the team gets into the red zone, where he has always done his best work. In terms of fantasy relevance, Bryant is fighting an uphill battle.
I do not doubt for a second that Bryant will be a valuable player for the Saints as they shoot for another NFC South title, and a whole lot more. Utility to the Saints, however, does not necessarily guarantee value in fantasy leagues. Bryant is a worthwhile pickup in all but the shallowest of leagues, and it’s entirely possible that his knack for finding the end zone remains a strong suit. After all, the Saints don’t seem to need help at receiver, and they clearly added him for a reason. A team that moves the ball as effectively as they do can make great use of a player like Bryant when they get in the red zone, even more so inside the 10-yard line. Still, fantasy owners shouldn’t be expecting too much from him. There’s simply too much competition in New Orleans to expect a player clearly on the back nine of his career to break through, especially as a midseason addition.