Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s undrafted rookie signings.
Name: Myles Bryant
Jersey number: TBD
Opening day age: 22
Size: 5-foot-8, 185 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? Bryant has no NFL experience to speak of on his résumé: he only entered the league when the Patriots signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent six weeks ago, and due to the Coronavirus pandemic has yet to participate in a real-life practice session with his teammates. That being said, he does have plenty of competitive football to build on thanks to his four-year career at the University of Washington — one that saw him grow from walk-on to a starting defensive back fairly quickly.
After serving as a backup during his true freshman season and seeing only rotational action in 11 games, Bryant earned the starting nickel back job in Year Two. From that point on, he became a fixture in the Huskies’ defensive backfield: over the three seasons that followed, he appeared in 39 games and registered four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), three forced fumbles, and a 3.5 sacks. Along the way, Bryant was named to the All-Pac 12 squad either as an honorable mention or a second-teamer each year.
What did his 2019 season look like? Despite coming off back-to-back impressive seasons, Bryant decided to stay in school and return to the Huskies for his 2019 senior season — a good decision considering that his final campaign in Seattle was arguably the best of his career up until that point. Playing primarily as a deep safety, but also regularly moving closer to the line as either a box defender or a slot cornerback, Bryant started all 13 of his team’s games and continued to be a playmaker on the backend of the defense.
Not only did he register a sack and force and recover one fumble each, he also was credited with just 14 receptions given up on 21 targets for a combined 117 yards and no touchdowns — all while intercepting a career-high three passes and breaking up one more. As a result of his play, Bryant was named to the second All-Pac 12 team and also voted his team’s most outstanding defensive player. Furthermore, he won the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honors after a two-interception, one-sack game against Hawai’i.
His college career also ended on a high note due to the fact that he received the Tyee Sports Council Community Service Award at Washington’s postseason awards banquet, and that he helped the team win the Las Vegas Bowl — a game during which the Bryant-led defense surrendered only seven points with him registering the third and final interception of his season.
What is his projected role? Bryant wore numerous hats at Washington and it remains to be seen how the Patriots view him in the context of their secondary. He could be used as a deep safety in the mold of Devin McCourty, but also might see considerable action closer to the line of scrimmage as a slot cornerback. That said, it seems that the second role might suit him better given his athletic skillset and comparative lack of range and explosiveness.
What is his special teams value? Like many undrafted rookies, Bryant will have to prove his value not just in the kicking game as well. He does bring some experience on special teams to the table from his time in college — he saw considerable action in the game’s third phase during his true freshman season — and projects to possibly be used on both coverage teams and maybe kickoff and punt return units as well at the next level.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots’ secondary is one of the most versatile units in all of football, and Bryant fits right in after serving as a jack-of-all-trades for the Huskies. In 2019, for example, he regularly moved between free (565 snaps) and box safety (160 snaps), as well as slot (130 snaps) and even boundary cornerback (8 snaps). Even if the Patriots opt against giving him multiple roles to learn this early in his career, his experience and versatility certainly could prove valuable.
What is his salary cap situation? After not hearing his name called during the NFL’s 2020 draft, Bryant signed a three-year free agency contract with the Patriots. As part of his deal, which includes a $50,000 salary guarantee as well as a $5,000 signing bonus, the rookie is on the team’s books with a cap number of $611,666 — one that does not qualify for a spot among the top-51 contracts currently counting against New England’s salary cap.
What is his roster outlook? While Bryant’s versatility, football intelligence and high motor are all intriguing, he finds himself in a difficult position no matter if the Patriots project him as a safety or cornerback: the team is deep at both positions with only one or two roster spots — up to nine defensive backs can be seen as locks or near-locks to make the team — realistically open for competition. But even if the 22-year-old fails to surprise and earn one of them, he seems like a natural candidate to be groomed on the practice squad for one year.