When it comes to the discussion of the top defensive tackles in the 2018 NFL Draft, one name that has been stirring up the conversation is Florida’s Taven Bryan.
The red-shirt junior from Casper, Wyoming may not have the stats that jump off the page as with some of the other prospects in this year’s class, but was certainly a presence that was accounted for on every snap of every game. In three years as a Gator, Bryan played quality snaps for the Gators, seeing action in all 36 games of his career while making 14 starts. 11 of those 14 coming this past season. I had a chance to dive into his tape and was able to recognize not just some of the bright flashes that support the case of him developing into a sound player, but some of the drawbacks that will need to be addressed.
He has the size to be a versatile piece to a defense, displaying the athletic ability to bump out and play defensive end while also possessing the strength to play inside as a three technique in a four-man front. The biggest trait Bryan possesses is an explosive get off. In terms of penetration, he might have the best first step of all the interior prospects.
Against Missouri, Bryan displayed the importance of having a great first step. By his second step, he already clears the left guard. With his third step, he points his toe toward the quarterback to attempt to chase from behind and by his fourth step, he is able to cleanly redirect to start his upfield pursuit. While it won’t always set him up for making the stop, it helps puts him in the best opportunity to be disruptive. Bryan boasts good athleticism and ‘plus’ lateral agility, being able to plant and run down the line on a consistent basis.
lined up as a three technique here, Bryan’s first step sets him up to be in good position. On slanting toward the A-gap, he displays good fundamentals on his redirect, attacking the outside shoulder of the center and keeping his outside arm free. What helps generate that positioning is a blend of his first step and a glimpse of his natural power, displacing the center three yards by his fourth step. Due to his penetration, Bryan forces the back to bounce to the sideline before getting vertical. With better fundamentals, this play goes from being a first down to creating a tough third down conversion. These are the types of plays that Florida fans were accustomed to seeing Bryan make throughout his time in Gainesville. It may not have been flashy or even fundamentally sound at times, but it was pure blue collar attitude.
However, that’s not to say that as a run defender there isn’t things that Bryan needs to address. The truth is that while he may sport great athleticism with mountain man-esqe strength, the reason behind the low production numbers is that there were plenty of snaps, to include the one above, were he took himself out of the play.
The biggest struggles that Bryan suffers from is his hand placement against the run and having sound gap discipline. He simply gets too wide on his initial strike at times leaving his breastplate susceptible. His wide hand placement also directly correlates to his struggles disengaging.
Bryan (93) is in near perfect position here against the left guard from Kentucky. An explosive first step generates penetration nearly a yard deep into the backfield. Along with his get off, he brings his hands, locking out the guard to give him full control. Where he starts to stray is when he attempts a “hump” move with his right arm to disengage. The moment he releases his control and drops his hands, the momentum of the offensive guard propels him into Bryan dissipating any gap that would have made the attempt to disengage a successful one. What you would like to see his him pull and rip through, a movement that would still give him a bit more control of the guard over a move that is most successful as a pass rush movement.
He also displays struggles in reading his keys. While he does a good job of recognizing blocking schemes, he struggles with trusting with he feels rather than what he sees.
A consistent theme against Florida State, Bryan displayed the ability to quickly and cleanly redirect when action was at him. In his snap, he provides a good shot to the center, penetrating two yards behind the line of scrimmage. However, rather than fighting the pressure of the center attempting to work across his face, Bryan opts to try and disengage on the backside. By doing so, he takes himself out of the play. If he would have disengaged right after delivering the initial strike, he could have been in prime position to make the stop on a hustle play down the line.
As a pass rusher, Bryan’s motor is really what sets him up for success mostly because he doesn’t really have a plan going into his rush. Lining up as a three technique or as an A-gap penetrator, he tends to pop up too quick out of his stance, losing not just his leverage, but all the power from his lower half. When lined up as a three technique, aside from popping up out of his stance, he appears to stop on his rush when facing slide protection, simply getting into the passing lane.
When he does win, it’s due to a good mixture of speed and power.
Bryan (93) wins the snap from the moment he takes his first step, already threatening the left guard. In fact, by the second step, he already as the rip in full motion and has nearly completely cleared the guard. On his third and four steps, he is beginning to run the arc and point his toe in a direct path to the quarterback. You get to see a little bit of his flexibility in his ankles when running that tight arc as well as the strength to finish with one arm. Snaps like this are what will get analysts intrigued about his future as a pass rusher.
There is plenty of intrigue with Bryan’s game in terms of his translation to an NFL defense. He has everything you want physically, for an interior defensive lineman in a 4-3 or a defensive end in a 3-4. In fact, I think that if he gets with the right defensive scheme and the right coach who could really refine into his technique, the sky could be the limit for the Wyoming native.
He needs to become more precise in his placement. He could also benefit from developing more of a structural base as a pass rusher. He displays a good combination of speed and power, but increasing his repertoire and developing more of a feel to use counter moves will allow him to become more disruptive that what we have seen at Florida. Again, he has just about everything. It’s just a matter of getting it harnessed.
Many analysts are expecting Bryan to light up the combine and have noted that it could help him become a first round lock. Despite his potential, I would be surprised to see him go in the Top 15. I could see him however, go within the back end of the first round to a team needing to reload or even be one of the first selections on Day 2.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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