Pretty much everything went wrong for the New England Patriots against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night. The offense struggled to get into a rhythm. The defense failed to slow down the opposing running game. Cam Newton threw a pick-six and was stopped short on a fourth down run — both plays ending promising red zone trips. It was a greatest hits of miscues, reminiscent of other issues the team has had this season.
And yet, not all was necessarily negative from the Patriots’ perspective.
Take undrafted rookie Myles Bryant, who had another solid performance as a rotational depth cornerback. While he was on the field for only 16 defensive snaps, his impact was obvious as he not only managed to end the game with a clean coverage sheet but also registered New England’s biggest defensive play:
In the late first quarter and with the Patriots down 10-0 and in dire need of a break, Bryant closely covered Rams wide receiver Roberts Woods on a third down pass. This, in turn, allowed him to rip the ball from Woods’ hands for an interception at the L.A. 32-yard line — the first pick of his career and the high point of what has been an impressive development as of late.
This development did not go unnoticed with his teammates either.
“His character is so high. He’s such a good kid. He’s wise beyond his years, he appreciates his opportunity, he works at it every day and he’s a pro,” said team captain Matthew Slater about the rookie following the Patriots’ 24-3 loss against the Rams. “For a young guy who just is getting his career started, he’s a pro. None of us are surprised that he’s out here contributing the way that he is, because he does it every single day in practice.”
Bryant originally arrived entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent — despite a productive career at the University of Washington that saw him grow from walk-on to starting defensive back. While he brought experience at both cornerback and safety to the table, he did not hear his name called during the draft and eventually ended up with the Patriots.
In New England, Bryant’s willingness to do it all has helped him catch the coaches’ eye and eventually find his way onto the roster after a short stint on the practice squad.
“I’ve played practice squad quarterback, I’ve taken some routes out of the backfield as a scout guy for our defense. So, whatever it is — kickoff, punt return, third downs — wherever they need me, I’m just ready to do it,” he said following the game in Los Angeles.
As a result of his work behind the scenes, Bryant was able to make his way into the rotation at cornerback as well. While still “only” a depth option behind veterans such as Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty, his potential was on full display over the last few weeks. His pick versus the Rams was just the latest stop on his journey up.
Accordingly, Bryant is evoking memories of other cornerbacks who turned into major contributors despite going undrafted. He still has a ways to before reaching the same spheres as Randall Gay, Malcolm Butler, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones or J.C. Jackson, but the Patriots must feel good about the early returns they are getting from their under-the-radar free agency investment.
“That was a message that I got immediately, not only from [Jones and Jackson], but from the coaches. They just told me the history of the undrafted players who came in here and made big impacts,” Bryant said. “So, that was my mindset from Day One: Just come in here, do my job, try to make an impact and help this team any way I can.”
Bryant certainly did just that as of late, and has made a strong case for more playing time after being on the field for 82 defensive snaps over the last seven weeks. While the talent ahead of him on the depth chart limits his potential for an increased role, Bryant appears to be competing well whenever and wherever on the field.
“Myles knows what everybody has in the secondary and is ready to go at any position,” said safety Devin McCourty about the youngster. “Whether that’s been the nickel, safety... Any position we’ve asked Myles to be at, he not just shows up and plays, but he knows what the other guys are doing. I’m happy to see him get more playing time, and then to make a big play like he made was crucial for us early in the game.
“I think he’s going to be a really good player, just because of his study habits and how hard he works. I’m excited for him.”
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Bryant, but his early progression from draft day afterthought to number five cornerback in one of the NFL’s deepest secondaries is a positive story for New England in a season lacking them. On Thursday night in particular, he was one of the few bright spots for the team.