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INDIANAPOLIS — Tight end is one of the most difficult positions for college players to transition to in the NFL.
For Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant, he knows transition all too well.
In high school in Georgia, he played basketball, baseball and football, performing as an offensive tackle on the gridiron up until his senior season when he moved to tight end.
"It was a weird transition at first, but I've always been able to catch the ball pretty well and I grew like five or six inches and lost some weight," Bryant told reporters at the Scouting Combine in February. "My high school coach played in the league so he was like, 'Your best bet for college is to transition.' It was the right call. I listened to him, I trusted him, and it worked out."
Bryant made a big impact right away on both sides of the ball, earning a spot at FAU after scoring 10 touchdowns as a high school senior and earning the county's Defensive Player of the Year award.
By the time he left the Owls, he was a highly accomplished collegiate tight end, earning the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end in 2019 as well as being named an Unanimous All-American.
Bryant's numbers increased each year, culminating in the rare 1,000-yard season for a tight end in 2019 as he totaled 65 catches for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.
Now, Bryant's next transition is to the NFL, and there's tons to like about him as a potential star at the next level eventually.
Evaluating Bryant all around starting with his frame, it's an athletic build and he's got good height at nearly 6'5", but he's undersized in most other ways. Along with being a little light, he's got short arms (30-5/8") and small hands (9-1/2"), so it'll be interesting to see how that affects him on teams' draft boards. If he wasn't playing a blocking position, those things wouldn't matter as much.
For his part, Bryant said he'd be willing to add a little weight to his frame if needed.
"This year I actually started off the season at 248 and then played at around 245. I weighed in yesterday at 243, so I feel comfortable in the 248-250 range, so I'm still working to get it back," Bryant said. "I thought I could play at what I'm at now, but I feel teams want me closer to 250, and I feel comfortable doing that."
Bryant's size hasn't been a big issue to this point, however, for what he lacks in measurements, he makes up for in mobility.
He has speed in the open field both before and after the catch, and he makes smooth, sharp cuts in his breaks as a route runner. He runs a variety of routes at just about all levels of the field; short, intermediate and downfield.
"Really, just my route running and my ability to catch the ball. Overall, I think I'm a very versatile tight end," Bryant described about some of the strong parts of his game. "I can run routes and catch the ball, and I'm also willing to go into the box and block and do whatever is asked."
Bryant is capable of lining up anywhere in the formation: in-line, off the line, backfield, in the slot and split out wide, although FAU's offense called for him to seldom line up in-line on the line of scrimmage like a traditional tight end.
He has a large catch radius because of his height, quickness and his willingness to adjust to the ball just about anywhere as it approaches him. Bryant catches the ball naturally with ease, including in crowded situation in traffic, and he often wins in contested-catch situations.
He can be difficult to bring down after the catch by lazy tackle attempts from defenders — and that's if they're even in position to bring him down if he hasn't already separated from them. While his speed is adequate, it's typically enough to leave some linebackers behind. Bryant can also absorb shoulder hits from defenders that don't wrap-up, as his balance allows him to stay upright.
One of the biggest areas of discussion regarding Bryant is blocking. After transitioning from an offensive tackle to a tight end, he became a tall, slender athlete who was dangerous as a playmaker, but it came at the expense of some of his traditional blocking skills.
With some coaching in an NFL system plus a few more pounds, Bryant should be right back on track where teams want to see him as a blocker.
When he is lined up in-line in pass protection, you can tell that his offensive tackle days come back to him because he shows the understanding of using a kickslide and running the pass-rusher around the arc and out of the quarterback's bubble.
"I definitely think it played a pretty big role in it, just knowing the technique," he said. "The fundamentals and stuff just carried over to the tight end position with run-blocking and pass protection."
However, a lot of his best blocking comes in the open field, blocking out in front of the ball for his teammates. He locks onto the defender much more consistently than earlier in his career, and he likes to try and drive guys back. While he's not always consistently convincing as a blocker, you can tell he's got the toughness and want-to in him to do the job effectively and at a higher level.
"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," Bryant said about the role blocking plays in his game. "Really just knowing that I'm helping the team whichever way possible and just going in there and trying to punish people every play. Blocking's all a mindset for a tight end, so really it's just going in and smacking somebody, really, and just doing what you've got to do."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
While tight end rankings have a big discrepancy this year depending on who you talk to, Bryant is slated to go somewhere on Day 2 of the draft. The good news for the Colts is they have three picks that day: Nos. 34, 44 and 75.
While the Colts' top two tight ends, Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox, are both legitimate pass-catching threats, they are are primarily chain-movers as receivers and are used quite a bit as blockers.
The Colts and Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron parted ways this offseason, leaving Indy with a void at tight end for a player who is primarily a pass-catching threat. For Bryant, that would likely be his role to start out.
The Colts are also facing an issue in 2021 in free agency, as Alie-Cox, Xavier Grimble, Billy Brown, Ian Bunting and Matt Lengel are all set to hit free agency, and the tight end room is likely to look much different at that time than it does currently.
With Doyle also being 30 when the upcoming 2020 season begins, the Colts will need to evaluate the future of the tight end position. Doyle and Alie-Cox are critical assets for them, but they could use one more to round out the group like they had with Doyle, Alie-Cox and Ebron the last two years.
While blocking was primarily left up to Doyle and Alie-Cox, Ebron was the Colts' primary pass-catching field stretching tight end. As evidenced by his 14 touchdowns in 2018, the Colts showed how valuable the position can be, especially when you have an athletic mismatch at your disposal.
While Bryant isn't the same player Ebron is, the Colts could have the unique opportunity to groom a player with high upside like Bryant, while not having to rely on him to be an every-down player as he develops alongside Doyle and Alie-Cox.
Under Colts head coach Frank Reich, the Colts' tight end group is likely to be among the most dangerous in the league. If they draft Bryant this year, that can continue being the case without missing a beat.
OTHER 2020 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES
- K.J. Hill | Wide Receiver | Ohio State
- Jerry Jeudy | Wide Receiver | Alabama
- Derrick Brown | Defensive Tackle | Auburn
- K'Lavon Chaisson | Edge Defender | LSU
- CeeDee Lamb | Wide Receiver | Oklahoma
- Tristan Wirfs | Offensive Tackle | Iowa
- Neville Gallimore | Defensive Tackle | Oklahoma
- Jeff Gladney | Cornerback | TCU
- Brandon Aiyuk | Wide Receiver | Arizona State
- Jonah Jackson | Interior Offensive Lineman | Ohio State
- Trevon Diggs | Cornerback | Alabama
- Hunter Bryant | Tight End | Washington
- Julian Okwara | Edge Defender | Notre Dame