Who would you want, Dez Bryant or Victor Cruz?

The Cowboys' Dez Bryant, left, and Giants' Victor Cruz square off Sunday in a battle of two of the NFC East's premier wide receivers. (Photos by LM Otero/Associated Press)

The Cowboys’ Dez Bryant, left, and Giants’ Victor Cruz square off Sunday in a battle of two of the NFC East’s premier wide receivers. (Photos by LM Otero/Associated Press)

openingkicklogoThe best matchup this Sunday is undoubtedly Broncos-Patriots, with Peyton Manning leading 9-1 Denver into a showdown with his old nemesis, Tom Brady, and 7-3 New England. Sounds like a golden opportunity to dust off that old Peyton-versus-Brady debate! The Sheriff* or the Golden Boy, who ya got?

(*Yeah, I didn’t know that was Manning’s nickname, either, until I googled it. Odd, isn’t it? First off, it’s odd that Peyton, for all his accomplishments and mannerisms, doesn’t really have a well-known nickname. But, apparently, to the extent that he has one, it’s “the Sheriff.” I dunno, when I think of a sheriff, I think of someone trying to stop all manner of gun-slinging. And has anyone gotten the okay from Stanley Richard on this?)

On second thought, let’s not get into Peyton-versus-Brady — we’ll just leave that to countless other media platforms and content providers. In fact, let’s pivot to a game with less impressive squads but of much greater interest to many readers of this blog. Let’s talk about Cowboys-Giants. Sounds like a golden opportunity to dust off that old Eli-versus-Romo debate! Rings or stats, who ya got??

On third thought, much as quarterbacks are the axis around which so much NFL blather spins, I’d like to talk about another position (but, fear not, I’ll still be trotting out the hacky “Who ya got?” construction). Let’s talk wide receiver, because I think the Cowboys-Giants game offers a fascinating contrast.

Dallas’s most dangerous offensive weapon is clearly Dez Bryant. He looks like the archetypal stud athlete, with a rock-solid 222 pounds spread across his 6-foot-2 frame. Bryant also has the ability to separate from defenders downfield necessary to be a No. 1 wide receiver.

New York’s answer is Victor Cruz. He is relatively slight at 6-0, 204, and is generally regarded as a slot receiver, but like Bryant, he is the player on his team about whom defenses must be most concerned. Before this season, that last clause might have applied to Hakeem Nicks, but Nicks seems to have fallen off quite a bit from the promise he showed in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, there’s no doubt that Cruz is not only the Giants’ main receiving threat, but, given New York’s woes at running back, the team’s overall most threatening offensive player.

But how does Cruz stack up to Bryant? Beginning in 2011, Cruz’s first real NFL season (the Giants basically stashed him on injured reserve for all of his rookie year of 2010), he has amassed 226 catches for 3,452 yards and 23 touchdowns. Over the same span, Bryant has gone for 207, 3,059 and 29, respectively. For his career, Cruz is averaging 15.3 yards per reception, while Bryant is at 14.4. So no glaring difference statistically; if anything, one could argue that Cruz has the advantage, except that his biggest numbers came in his out-of-nowhere 2011 campaign, when he averaged a crazy 18.2 yards per reception en route to a total of 1,536.

Now, almost any NFL observer would say that, in pure football-playing terms, they’d take Bryant over Cruz. Bryant has all the measurables and is well on his to becoming one of the sport’s preeminent touchdown-makers. In terms of metrics, Pro Football Focus grades the Cowboy higher this season (8.8 to 7.8). It had him lower last season (4.9 to 6.0, largely due to penalties) but much higher in 2011 (13.1 to 8.0), even though that was Cruz’s breakout season.

Of course, Bryant really has it over Cruz in terms of pedigree. While Cruz went to U-Mass., a school not known for its football program, and got completely passed over in the 2010 NFL draft, Bryant starred at the Oklahoma State football factory and was a first-round pick in the same draft.

But even that stark contrast brings up one in Cruz’s favor — the knucklehead factor. Bryant was a very highly touted prospect going into that draft, but several teams had reportedly taken him off their boards over concerns about his character. He was judged to be someone who got by on elite athleticism as opposed to working on the finer techniques of his position, and who couldn’t be trusted to go all-out at all times on the field Since being drafted, Bryant has had a couple of minor scrapes, but also a troubling domestic violence incident involving his mother, which was moved to dismissal after Bryant agreed to a year of anger management counseling. The Cowboys even went so far as to arrange a 24-hour security detail and a list of behavioral guidelines in the hope of keeping Bryant out of trouble.

Cruz, on the other hand, has a very inspiring tale to tell. He had to work hard on his grades just to get into, and then remain at, Massachusetts, while having to cope with his father’s suicide. Then he had to start from the bottom with Giants, making no impact his rookie season, apart from a memorable preseason performance against the Jets that was featured on “Hard Knocks.” Today, Cruz is not only a star on the Giants, but one widely admired, including by his crusty old coach, Tom Coughlin, for his work ethic.

I’m not trying to say that Bryant is a bad guy — why, just the other day, he bought Playstation 4s for several strangers, simply to be nice. But Cruz is an official Point of Light, for heaven’s sake.

If I had to choose one these two to join my squad (the Jets, who could sorely use a star wide receiver), I’d go with Bryant. I’d rather bet on him becoming more mature, or at least never getting into serious trouble, and take the dominant physical ability. But Cruz brings a lot to the football field in his own right. And, for what it’s worth, if we’re talking about the current Redskins, Cruz’s slot-receiver talent would fit really nicely alongside Pierre Garcon, whose own skill set more closely resembles that of Bryant.

So what do you think? Would you rather have Bryant or Cruz? Share your opinion (don’t act like you don’t have one) in the comments.

Around the Web:

Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth looks at the backlog of Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates, including Joe Jacoby, and has a simple solution: Let ‘em all in!

Need a refresher on last night’s Saints-Falcons game? Chris Wesseling at nfl.com has the key takeaways.

Man, kind of a brutal double-whammy for Redskins fans — a bad season, compounded by not having a first-round pick to obsess over when that bad season ends. However, if you’re interested in who might get taken by the Rams with what would have been the Redskins’ pick, or if you, like me, are a sucker for this sort of waaaayyyy-too-early speculation, Yahoo! sports posted a first-round mock draft.

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