By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
He's never been arrested. Never had a recurring problem with violence. Or drugs. Or alcohol. He loves his momma and has kept the same best friend since third grade.
He's 6-foot-2, 225 pounds with giant hands and minuscule body fat. He was, by far, the best, most talented receiver in college football last season.
"They know more about me," Bryant says, "than anyone."
Where other National Football League teams were scared off from afar by Bryant's 2009 NCAA suspension for lying, his irregular heart or his habit of being late, the Cowboys sent scouts to his hometown of Lufkin and investigated, researched and pondered the myths and rumors surrounding the Oklahoma State star. In the end, owner/general manager Jerry Jones decided Bryant's reward far outweighed his risk and Dallas traded up to select him in the first round of the NFL Draft.
It's the first time the Cowboys have drafted a receiver in the first round since 1988 when they took a guy named Michael Irvin. They will not be disappointed.
"He's a game-changer," Jones says. "Let's just get him on the field and watch him make plays."
As opposed to 2008, when Jones traded out of the draft's first two rounds and selected a flurry of backups that had minimal impact on the team, the Cowboys this year pursued quality over quantity. The result? Bryant will drastically alter the dynamics as a third receiver and punt returner while second-round choice Penn State inside linebacker Sean Lee will likely, thankfully signal the end of the Bobby Carpenter era.
With a couple of deft maneuvers, the Cowboys are clearly a better team today than they were after walking off the Metrodome field in the wake of the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings in January. Dallas will rely on Doug Free to replace Flozell Adams at left tackle and, because it didn't address the hole at free safety, must count on the likes of Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and Patrick Watkins or find veteran free-agent help to counter the release of Ken Hamlin. But Bryant and Lee could very well be contributors on a team that makes history in February as the first to play in a Super Bowl in its own city.
Appropriately, in this draft the Cowboys coveted a couple missing links rather than vast bodies to fill endless chasms.
"That logically tells you that you feel pretty good about your team," Jones says. "I don't want to go as far as to say it's a Super Bowl team. But I think with what Sean and Dez bring immediately...we've improved materially."
The Cowboys picked only six players over the three-day draft, the fewest in 10 years. After Bryant and Lee, they selected safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Notre Dame offensive tackle Sam Young, Texas Tech cornerback Jamar Wall and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore. Hard not to call the draft a success when the Cowboys (who began with picks No. 27 and 59) nabbed two players rated among the top 16 on their draft board.
Amazingly, Jones only had to move down 29 overall spots (trading a third-round pick for a fourth to the New England Patriots) later for the right to move up and nab Bryant sooner. Having identified Idaho offensive lineman Mike Iuapti, Texas safety Earl Thomas and Bryant as their three worthy targets, Jones and the draft war room grew increasingly intense/giddy as the receiver began to tumble through the teens into Dallas' strike zone.
"You get to twitchin' and people started getting excited, talking in tongues," Jones jokes. "When you get your man at your price, it's a satisfying thing."
Sure, Jones' pursuit of Bryant is a make-good for passing on Randy Moss in the 1998 draft and an admission that Roy Williams isn't, after all, the No. 1 receiver he traded for in 2008. But in the end, Jones patted son/vice president Stephen on the back, relaxed in his leather chair and took a celebratory swig of iced tea. With Bryant, the Cowboys not only have a more talented team, but an arsenal of offensive weapons that rivals the group that won three of four Super Bowls in the 1990s. Granted, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Irvin are Hall of Famers, but quarterback Tony Romo can now hand the football to Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and Marion Barber or throw it long to Miles Austin and Bryant or short to Williams and Jason Witten. So stockpiled is Dallas' lineup that receivers Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd are seeking trades.
"Not trying to talk noise, but if all goes well, we'll have the best wide receiving corps in the league," Williams says. "Dez is a big dude, he can play. He will help us win some ball games."
It won't be surprising if Bryant is the NFL's Rookie of the Year. And to think, some teams saw not potential, but only red flags.
Over the weekend we heard the draft experts refer to Bryant's "life skills issues" and point to one anonymous team supposedly passing on Bryant because of an irregular heart ("No concerns there," Jones maintains), but it was his lying to the NCAA that most damaged his goods.