Fantasy draft debate: Dez Bryant vs. Doug Baldwin

Are you ready to sign Dez Bryant for your fantasy squad? (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Are you ready to sign Dez Bryant for your fantasy squad? (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Spin Doctors: Dez Bryant vs. Doug Baldwin

Dez Bryant and Doug Baldwin are names we know well, big-ticket items in all fantasy leagues. They’re going around the same pocket of drafts (usually in the second half of Round 2) and you might have some difficulty choosing between them. Dalton Del Don and Scott Pianowski are here to break the tie for you.

Dalton All About Dez: I’m a Doug Baldwin fan, but Dez Bryant averaged 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns over three seasons from 2012-2014. He’s been a letdown over the last two campaigns, but Bryant isn’t even 30 years old, so let’s calm down when it comes to age. He’s still in his prime, and Dak Prescott got 8.0 YPA last year (without a healthy Bryant for most of it). And it’s safe to assume the Cowboys will be throwing more in 2017 with Ezekiel Elliott suspended for six games and playing a tougher schedule.

The Cowboys are projected to win the NFC East. Prescott is a budding star, and Jason Witten is 35 years old. So the biggest competition for targets (in a terrific situation) are Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams. I get fading based on recency effect, but Bryant is still in his prime who should be looking at around 150 targets in an offense that has one of the best lines, so I’m not ready to write him off as a clear WR1.

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Bryant had one drop last year (the same amount of fumbles he’s had since 2013), has little competition for looks, is a star in his prime and should only gain better rapport with Prescott during the QB’s sophomore year. The last game he played, he hauled in 12 catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs against the Packers. Bryant ranked top-10 among all wide receivers in the NFL in red-zone target percentage last year, so I’m still treating him worthy of an early round pick.

Pianow Stumps for Baldwin: My esteemed colleague outlined why Bryant is worth a lofty pick; I agree. But does that make him better than Seattle’s slot superstar? Baldwin has beaten Bryant two straight years — last year was clinched by injury; 2015, it was a slam dunk for Baldwin no matter what — and I see screened upside to this Seattle passing game.

Part of my pro-Baldwin stance is a secondary way to promote Russell Wilson. Last year was the first time in five seasons anyone took a fantasy loss on Wilson — he was merely QB11 after costing a fourth-round pick. But remember, Wilson played through nasty ankle and knee problems in the first half of the year, significantly collapsing his mobility and ability to improvise. Athleticism is Wilson’s game, but it was shut down for about two months. (If you have access to the NFL Rewind package, rewatch the Arizona-Seattle 6-6 tie from Week 7, note how compromised Wilson was. After that, poke your eyes out.)

Baldwin made his first Pro Bowl in 2016 (AP)
Baldwin made his first Pro Bowl in 2016 (AP)

After Baldwin’s dream season of 2015, the Regression Police had a field day. They ran from Baldwin and forecast a collapse — and man did he tumble, all the way from WR7 to WR10. Despite Wilson’s two months of hell, Baldwin was still a set-and-forget fantasy commodity.

Passes to Baldwin are easy on the eyes; he has a 75-percent catch rate the last two years. That’s why Baldwin never gets a silly total of targets; the offense is too efficient. Bryant snagged just 61 percent of his passes last year (and 44 percent in 2015, when everything went wrong in Dallas); while Bryant did easily beat Baldwin in YPC last year, Baldwin had the better yards per target.

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The pro case for Bryant asks you to ignore the last two years (2014 was so long ago, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte and Arian Foster were Top 6 players); to pooh-pooh the nasty set of cornerbacks Bryant is about to face (I’d worry far less about this if I fully trusted the Dallas coaching staff); and to forget Bryant has missed time in four of his seven seasons overall. And while I’m a Dak Prescott fan, it’s likely he takes an efficiency dip in his second season. He certainly isn’t as sure a bet as Wilson is.

Baldwin hangs his hat in the slot, but I don’t view that as a pejorative — it’s easier to make your hay in that portion of the field. After Antonio Brown, he’s as good a route runner as the league has. If Baldwin slides to the third round, you’ve committed a felony, but I’m happy to take him in the second round, too. Your best players have to give you floor and upside, and Baldwin checks both of those boxes.

Wilson and Baldwin are healthy and cooking this summer, with the third preseason game already in the books (Wilson’s QB rating is over 130). Get them in bubble wrap, bring on the real games.

Want to blitz our analysts? Catch @daltondeldon and @scott_pianowski on Twitter.

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