NFL Picks: Is Dez Bryant Healthy & Motivated Enough To Win His First Receiving Yards Title?

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 9:58 PM GMT

The Dallas Cowboys haven't had a player lead the NFL in receiving yards in 24 years. Does that drought end in 2015 with Pro Bowler Dez Bryant? He might be the NFL's best at the position now and is a +900 on BetOnline's NFL odds to have the most yards.

Bryant Eclipsed Only By Irvin?
The Cowboys have had some of the NFL's best-ever receivers, guys like  Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes as well as Terrell Owens and Drew Pearson to name four. Yet only twice has a Dallas player led the NFL in receiving yards: Irvin with 1,523 in 1991 and Pearson with 870 in 1977. That Pearson year was the last season with only 14 regular-season games but still doesn't really explain why Pearson led with such a low total. That's easily the only time since the merger the league leader didn't get to 1,000 yards.

You could argue that Bryant had the second-best season by a Cowboys receiver ever in 2014 with 88 catches for 1,320 yards (No. 7 in Cowboys history) and an NFL-best 16 touchdowns (No. 1 in Dallas history). Although Bryant's 2012 season where he had 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 TDs was pretty impressive. The best has to be Irvin's 1995 season where he set franchise records with 111 catches for 1,603 yards to go with 10 touchdowns. After not playing all 16 games in either of his first two seasons -- and with some rumors of some off-field issues -- Bryant hasn't missed a game in the past three. His 56 career TD catches trail only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss, maybe the greatest receivers ever (Rice certainly is No. 1 ), for the most in a player's first five seasons. Rice had 66 and Moss 60.

Yet Perhaps the most memorable Bryant's most memorable catch of his career  was one that turned out not to be. He made a spectacular juggling grab late in the NFC divisional playoff game in Green Bay in January, which would have given Dallas a first-and-goal the Packers' 1 and with a great chance to pull the upset. It was ruled a  catch on the field but overturned on video replay. The Dallas Cowboys never got the ball back and lost.

Bryant threatened to hold out into the 2015 regular season if he didn't get a new contract this summer. The team slapped the franchise tag on him and right before the deadline for franchise players to sign arrived in mid-July, Bryant agreed to a five-year, $70  million deal. That included guarantees of $32 million. And that guaranteed money increases to a total of $45 million if Bryant is still on the team's roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2016. He will be barring something shocking.

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Dez Already Hobbled
Bryant hasn't played in the Cowboys' first two preseason games and he's not going to in the final two, either. He suffered a hamstring strain on Aug. 6 and only returned to a limited practice on Tuesday. He also sat out the team's offseason programs because Bryant was unhappy with his contract. So maybe he's not in the best of shape yet. Bryant also made news this week as he's on the cover of the new Rolling Stone magazine. So his Q-rating is clearly on the rise.

Is there any reason to think Bryant can't lead the league in receiving yards? I do think the Cowboys are going to run less this season because they lost NFL rushing king DeMarco Murray to free agency. Dallas was third in the NFL with 508 carries last season, behind only Houston (551) and Seattle (525). The Cowboys' 476 pass attempts was 31st, ahead of only Seattle (454). I'm sorry, but the Cowboys can't be counting on Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden all that much in 2015. Tony Romo will be putting the ball in the air more often.

The negative side of losing Murray is that perhaps teams will feel more comfortable double-teaming Bryant because they won't feel the need to bring a safety up in the box. Tight end Jason Witten remains a good target for Romo and receiver Terrance Williams is OK, but certainly no one else on the team will worry opposing defensive coordinators like Bryant would.

NFL Free Pick: Already a nagging injury and Bryant might not be quite as motivated as he was before getting the extension. I'm sure he will have a fine year, but I don't like him on this prop at +900 NFL odds at BetOnline.