Thanks to the power of the Internet, I realized this morning that it's Michael Irvin's 48th birthday today.
If you're reading this site, you're not going to need an introduction to Michael Irvin – Dallas Cowboy legend, Ring of Honor member and a 2007 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Irvin went to five Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowls as a member of the famous Triplets, alongside Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.
Irvin hasn't played a game of NFL football in more than a decade, but his image and legacy cast a pretty large shadow over the Cowboys – and not just because he is currently a member of the national football media.
No, it's got more to do with another player, currently wearing his old No. 88 jersey for the same club. The minute the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant, a similarly talented and mercurial receiver, in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the comparisons were bound to come.
So why not make another? Bryant turned 25 on Nov. 4 of last season, about halfway through his fourth NFL campaign. Irvin turned 25 on March 4, 1991, following his third season since being drafted out of Miami.
There's obviously a long way to go before the book is closed on his career. But at this juncture, Bryant has well eclipsed what Irvin was able to do in his early years in the league.
After three years in the league, Irvin had appeared in 32 of a possible 48 games and had started 23 of those. Injuries hampered the early going of his career, as he finished those three seasons with 78 total catches for 1,445 yards and 12 touchdowns.
There's no doubt he came into his own in his fourth season, 1991 – after he turned 25. With Aikman and Smith arriving to help turn the Cowboys around from the woeful records of Irvin's first two seasons, the team reached the playoffs. In the process, Irvin started all 16 games and compiled a 93-catch season for 1,523 yards. From that point on, he didn't dip below 1,000 yards in a season until 1996 – which was shortened by a suspension from the league. [embedded_ad]
If you've been watching the Cowboys in recent seasons, you know Bryant hasn't needed as much time to make the leap. After a 45-catch, 561-yard rookie season, he improved significantly in years two and three for a three-season total of 200 catches, 2,871 yards and 27 scores.
And that does not include Bryant's 93-catch, 1,233-yard, 13-touchdown 2013 season – his fourth in the league.
There are some obvious concessions to make, of course. Dez's NFL is far more receiver-friendly than Irvin's was, and Dez's level of quarterback play in the early going of his career is far higher than Irvin's was to start. You could also argue that the talent level on the Cowboys right now is improved from Irvin's early career – though neither receiver reached the playoffs in his first three seasons.
All that said, Bryant's season averages for the first four years are all a decent bit better than Irvin's career averages. There's a long way to go, but Dez is well on his way to filling his predecessor's shoes.