Expectations for DE Austin Bryant in Year 2
In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions and general manager Bob Quinn selected EDGE rusher Austin Bryant in the fourth round.
Coming out of Clemson, the 6-foot-4, 271-pounder had accumulated quite the list of accolades as a two-time CFP National Champion.
In 2017, Bryant earned second-team All-ACC honors, and followed that season up with a third-team All-ACC selection his senior year while playing through a torn pectoral muscle.
Unfortunately, the injury required surgery at season’s end, and the procedure kept him from participating in drills at the combine and his pro day.
Presumably related to the pectoral ailment from his time at Clemson, Bryant spent most of his rookie training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and subsequently landed on injured reserve to start the season.
After his IR stint, Bryant saw his first NFL action in Week 12 against the Washington football team formally known as the Redskins.
He then was inactive for the two weeks after, before playing in the final three weeks of the season.
In total, he saw just 133 defensive snaps his rookie season.
Based on his limited sample size, what should Lions fans be expecting from Bryant going into year two?
At this point, it would appear that the Lions want to utilize Bryant more as a JACK linebacker.
In a rather surprising move -- as most draft analysts predicted Bryant to be more of a 4-3 defensive end at the next level -- Bryant played both as a stand-up outside linebacker and as a defensive end in Matt Patricia’s defense.
There were a few examples of Bryant standing up while at Clemson. But, athleticism and pass coverage are not necessarily a strength.
In 2019, Bryant predominantly played behind ex-Lion Devon Kennard, and moved to down defensive end when Trey Flowers or Romeo Okwara were moved inside on obvious passing downs.
As a pass rusher, Bryant, unfortunately, made little impact his rookie season.
On 65 pass-rushing snaps, he didn’t record a single sack, and he only pressured the opposing quarterback on two of his rushes.
His Pro Football Focus pass-rushing grade of 45.8 was dead last for all 114 rookies with at least one pass-rush attempt.
Playing against the run, Bryant did have a respectable 71.8 grade -- ranked sixth out of 33 graded rookie EDGE defenders. At least he showed some potential in one aspect of the game.
Now, with the departure of Kennard, it leaves the door open for Bryant to grab a larger role.
There will be some stiff competition from rookie Julian Okwara and a few of the off-ball linebackers. But, technically, Bryant may be the pseudo-starter in the JACK role at this point.
Anytime a player is selected in the fourth round of the draft, there clearly are expectations.
Obviously, Quinn and Patricia have something in mind for Bryant.
Long story short, Bryant is going to have to develop a fair amount from his rookie season if he wants to continue to see playing time.