Top Tight Ends in NFL Draft: Harrison Bryant
Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant, who won the Mackey Award, is our No. 2-ranked tight end.
When Harrison Bryant gets his signing bonus deposited into his checking account, he should send a thank-you note to a few people for propelling the zero-star recruit down this unexpected road.
First is J.T. Wall, the head coach at John Milledge Academy in Milledge, Ga. Bryant played offensive tackle for his first three seasons of high school before Wall – a former Pittsburgh Steelers draft choice – moved him to tight end for his senior year.
“It was a weird transition at first, but I've always been able to catch the ball pretty well and I grew like 5 or 6 inches and lost some weight,” Bryant said at the Scouting Combine. “My high school coach (said) your best bet for college is to transition. It was the right call. I listened to him, I trusted him, and it worked out.”
Second is Travis Trickett, without whom he would have been playing defense at an FCS-level school.
“I was going to Samford to play defensive end and their OC (Trickett) went over to FAU a few weeks before signing day,” Bryant said. “He called me and I went out on a visit and they offered me at tight end. That's how I ended up there.”
Third is John Raine. While Bryant could block, he barely had a rudimentary base in the passing game. Raine, his roommate and a fellow member of FAU’s 2016 recruiting class, served as a selfless mentor.
“Going into FAU, I couldn't run a route at all,” Bryant said. “Actually, my roommate, our other tight end, he taught me how to run routes. He played tight end, too, so he was always telling me, ‘C'mon, Bryant, I need something. I need you to pay me back or something.’ I'm like, ‘Nah.’ He always jokes that he wished he wouldn't have told me stuff like that. But we're best friends and he's the one who taught me how to run, the technique and details, because I was really a raw route-runner coming into FAU playing offensive tackle my whole life.”
Bryant went from six receptions as a freshman to 32 as a sophomore to 45 as a junior. That set the stage for an historic senior season. Bryant won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end after a monster season of 65 receptions for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. His 3.4 yards per route not only led the nation but was one of only two tight ends to even average 2.0. He started his season with six catches for 79 yards vs. powerhouse Ohio State, and six of his touchdowns came in the final four games. Bryant became the first player not from a Power 5 conference to win the Mackey in its 20-year history and the first player in the 19-year history of the program to receive a national individual accolade.
What we like
By any analytical statistic, Bryant dominated. He hauled in an impressive 8-of-11 passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, averaged 6.4 yards after the catch and forced 12 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. That missed-tackle count is tied for No. 1 in the draft class. Plus, he had a 54.2 percent catch rate on contested catches. Plus, with that offensive line background, he’s not afraid to do the dirty work. “For sure. My willingness to block is all there. I've always had that. I enjoy blocking and I feel like that's a big thing from playing offensive tackle because growing up that's all I did was block people, so it's definitely there and I enjoy it and I feel like I do a pretty good job at it.”
What we don’t like
At 6-foot-4 3/4 and 243 pounds, Bryant doesn’t quite measure up physically with a 4.73 in the 40, 32.5-inch vertical and 13 reps on the bench press. So, it’s fair to wonder how much of what he did against lesser college competition will translate to the NFL. Plus, he dropped eight passes. His 10.4 percent drop rate is one of the worst in the draft class, perhaps a byproduct of 9 1/2-inch hands. While he has the mentality, he lacks the heft to be a consistent blocker. That part will take time in the weight room.