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Where Does Dez Fit in the NFL?

The NFL Draft is not an exact science. Despite numerous football drills, the Wonderlic test, and the heralded NFL combine, a prospect’s NFL success is unpredictable. A player’s behavior off the field is often overlooked. That is not the case, however, with Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose off-the-field issues have general managers around the NFL seriously reconsidering their draft boards. 

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Standing 6’ 2” and 225 pounds, Bryant’s talent is unquestioned. He is clearly the premier wide receiver of the 2010 draft class, and Bryant was an integral part of Oklahoma State’s vaunted offense as a sophomore in 2008.

The summer before his junior season, Bryant trained with retired star cornerback Deion Sanders. The NCAA subsequently approached Bryant about whether he had trained with Sanders at Sanders’s house, an NCAA violation. Bryant initially denied training with Sanders.

In October 2009, the NCAA continued to question Bryant. Eventually, the Texas native admitted to breaking NCAA bylaws. He was suspended for the remainder of his junior season, and Oklahoma State struggled.

In the weeks before the NFL combine in Indianapolis, teams were becoming frustrated with Bryant. Front offices found the star wide receiver to have a more complex personality than originally expected. Furthermore, a hamstring injury has prohibited Bryant from working out before NFL scouts. He first skipped the combine, which is not uncommon among elite prospects. Bryant then skipped Oklahoma State’s pro day, again citing his hamstring. Reports, however, have surfaced that Bryant would have skipped the pro day regardless of the injury. He had planned to have a private workout in his native town of Lufkin, Texas.

In addition, the hamstring injury has forced franchises to look more in depth into Bryant’s injury history. He suffered a nagging ankle injury in his sophomore season, and various organizations believe that if Bryant struggled to stay on the field in a less physical, shorter college football schedule, then he will not be able to consistently stay healthy in the NFL.

Perhaps NFL franchises should look back to 1998 for answers. Randy Moss, whose legal troubles were more serious, slipped to number 21 overall. Before that draft, experts thought that Moss might go in the Top 10. Moss went on to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and he formed one of the greatest wide receiver tandems of all time with Cris Carter in Minnesota.

In contrast, the Tennessee Titans selected Adam “Pacman” Jones in 2005 with the sixth selection overall. Believed to be a game breaker on defense as well as in the return game, Jones was compared to a young Deion Sanders. Jones began to develop into one of the game’s most promising players. However, in 2007 all turned awry in Tennessee. Jones has been arrested 13 times. Consequently, he was suspended for the 2008 season, was released by the Titans and later by the Cowboys, and is now out of football.

Clearly, owners are willing to give players second chances, but is it warranted? The responsibility ultimately lies with the player himself. To succeed, Bryant would probably need a strict coach along with a strong team leader. Perhaps the New England Patriots or the Baltimore Ravens could fill the bill, both of whom have a need at wide receiver.