Chris Wesseling

Offseason Low Down

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Offseason NFL Mailbag

Wednesday, April 20, 2011




Q: @dooger2 Would love to read in-depth discussion of where Dez Bryant and Kenny Britt rank after recent troubles. Where they rank vs. a guy like Mike Wallace who has less upside but is more of a sure thing.

A: Great question. I subscribe to the Ozzie Newsome philosophy on character evaluation: "I think gut feeling has a lot to do with it." You can't always predict your second-round pick falling down a flight of stairs or your star running back walking away from millions to "find himself" in a haze of marijuana smoke and holistic healing while shleping around Australia in a $7-a-day tent.

I've attempted to clarify my stance on knuckleheads in the past. Of late, any player running afoul of the law -- and the subsequent long arm of Roger Godell's personal conduct policy -- is put the through the knucklehead ringer. Unfortunately, it's not that simplistic.

Plenty of players run into early-career legal woes (i.e. Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Ray Lewis) and go on to Hall of Fame caliber careers. Some stay out of trouble off the field only to make an arse out of themselves on the field (i.e. Terrell Owens, Jeff George, Ryan Leaf). Still others combine the worst of both traits. Before shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub, Plaxico Burress pouted, disrespected coaches, incurred a series of team and league fines, and showed poor on-field awareness. Brandon Marshall has been arrested multiple times in addition to the disturbing trends of shouting at his coaches and quarterbacks, showing up to camp out of shape, ripping fans, and making a one-man spectacle of himself in practices. JaMarcus Russell ballooned to 300 pounds, never worked to improve his awful footwork or scattershot accuracy, and got busted for a nasty "purple drank" habit.

The trick is to separate the first two groups from the third group. It's more guessing game than science, especially when the subjects at hand have yet to reach their 23rd birthday -- as is the case with Bryant and Britt.

To hear his father tell it, Britt has been the victim of simple mathematics in the NFL. To quote Rocky, "You hang out with nice people, you get nice friends, ya understand? You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo's, you get yo-yo friends. You see, simple mathematics." Britt has combined yo-yo friends with the poor decision-making that goes with immaturity. Before last week's car chase with police, he had landed in hot water for participating in a bar fight, for helping childhood friend and rapper Albert "Albee Al" Robinson with bail money, for a traffic violations, and for showing up to offseason practices out of shape. Separately, each of the incidents is relatively minor. Taken together, they paint a picture of a young player desperately in need of a wake-up call.

As it turns out, Britt's car-chase case could result in nothing more than a tongue-lashing. The prosecutor acknowledged that jail time is unlikely because Britt had no prior criminal record. Profootballtalk's Mike Florio, a former practicing attorney, believes commissioner Roger Goodell's stated intention to enforce the personal conduct policy for behavior during the lockout is a "flimsy proposition." What fantasy owners are left with is a top-10 talent at wide receiver who may not miss a single game . As young and talented as Britt is, the upside justifies the risk in my opinion.

Bryant's rough upbringing -- raised by a single, often absentee mother who spent 18 months in prison -- doesn't excuse his recent behavior. It does give us a window into his "lack of life skills" as a young kid who "just doesn't know any better," though. Bryant's recent mistakes boil down to back-talking an overzealous security guard, falling out of favor with Deion Sanders, and failing to make payments for expensive jewelry accepted before he entered the NFL. The Dallas-area mall has apologized for the flap, and Bryant has already begun making payments for the jewelry.

When those around the Cowboys organization talk about Bryant, they use phrases like: down to earth, loves the Cowboys, hard worker, has a good heart, and intentions are pure. What we have here is a clueless kid who loves football, yet is ignorant of basic adult responsibilities. What he's not is a criminal or a bad seed. As is the case with Britt, Bryant absolutely needed a wake-up call -- and the Cowboys knew it. Head coach Jason Garrett and new receivers coach Jimmy Robinson will be charged with instilling discipline once the lockout is over. There will be minor mistakes along the way, but this is a player with the freakish talent to emerge as the best receiver in the NFL. He's already done things on the field that have caused Cowboys officials to say, "I've never seen that before." His vice-grip hands, enormous catch radius, explosive acceleration, and Michael Irvin-like physicality are the elements of an off-the-charts All-Pro. Bryant has to be valued as a top-10 Dynasty/keeper receiver even with the off-field controversy.

Where do Britt and Bryant rank vs. a safer young talent such as Mike Wallace? I think Wallace has every bit the upside that Britt has. Both are elite top-10 talents in my eyes. Back in February, I ranked Wallace No. 8 among Dynasty receivers and Britt one tier lower at No. 11 due to the Titans' uncertain QB situation and his own character concerns. Wallace's advantage has increased slightly with Britt's latest incident. As impressive as both players are, Bryant is on another plane with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson. He's certainly not as safe as those three, but he's every bit as talented. He also has a much longer shelf-life in Dynasty leagues. I would target Bryant in every league this offseason, and I wouldn't think twice about it. Difference-making talent is worth the risk.



Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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