With the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp in the books, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September 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 bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with defensive back Myles Bryant.
Name: Myles Bryant
Jersey number: 41
Opening day age: 23
Size: 5-foot-8, 185 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? An undrafted free agent signing by the Patriots in 2020, Bryant naturally has only limited NFL experience on his résumé. That being said, he a) has still appeared in nine games during his rookie season while also registering an interception, band b) has 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 starter in the Huskies’ defensive backfield 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 team’s 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 2020 season look like? Bryant did not hear his name called in the 2020 NFL Draft and therefore had to go the free agency route to find a new team. Find one he did when the Patriots signed him as an additional layer of depth behind one of the most talented cornerback groups in the entire league. Despite that and him not having the benefit of traditional offseason workouts or preseason play, the youngster was still able to do enough in training camp to be kept on the practice squad.
Bryant’s stint on New England’s developmental roster lasted only one week, though. By mid-September he had already found his way onto the club’s active team. That said, it took until Week 8 for him to make his professional debut: with Stephon Gilmore out because of a knee injury, Bryant made the game day squad against the Buffalo Bills. He went on to play 20 defensive snaps during Gilmore’s three-game absence, and showed that he very much is capable of competing against NFL-level talent.
Over the second half of the season, Bryant therefore saw somewhat regular action and was able to finish his first campaign in the league with nine in-game appearances. Along the way he was on the field for 156 of a possible 1,017 defensive snaps (15.3%) as well as 39 more in the kicking game (of 399; 9.8%). While he had some ups and downs — as should be expected given his lack of experience and unusual offseason — the rookie proved himself a valuable and versatile member of New England’s defense.
Regularly moving between cornerback and safety alignments, Bryant also held his own in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks went 3-for-5 when targeting him for a combined 36 yards. The youngster did not surrender any touchdowns and also was able to notch one interception: in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, Bryant was able to undercut a throw by former first-round draft pick Jared Goff for the pick. The takeaway was the biggest play in what was an encouraging rookie season in general.
What is his projected role? The Patriots appear well-set at the starting positions in their secondary, but Bryant’s versatility should still allow him to carve out a role. After all, he showed in 2020 that he can move between safety and cornerbacks alignments without much of a problem. Bryant’s role should therefore be titled simply “defensive back” and look a lot like that of free agency acquisition Jalen Mills during his last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots used Bryant only sparingly in the kicking game as a rookie, but he still saw action on two units: he was used as a front-line member of the kickoff coverage team, registering two tackles in the process, and also played a pair of snaps as a defensive linemen on the punt return squad. Bryant has potential for more playing time in the game’s third phase, and it would not be a surprise if the coaching staff gave him more opportunities.
Does he have positional versatility? After already serving as a jack-of-all-trades at the University of Washington, Bryant continued to play a versatile role after his arrival in New England. During his rookie season, he regularly moved between free safety (66 snaps), strong safety (36), slot cornerback (31), perimeter cornerback (15) and even the defensive line (8). Despite his lack of experience, New England’s coaches trusted him in a variety of roles.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering his second season in the NFL, Bryant is among the cheapest players on the roster. He will be playing on a salary cap number of just $780,000 that does not include any guarantees. Accordingly, Bryant is currently not counting against New England’s cap: he does not have a contract qualifying for Top-51 status and will only hit the books if he makes the team’s 53-man roster, practice squad or gets placed on injured reserve.
What is his roster outlook? Given New England’s depth at both cornerback and safety, Bryant cannot be considered a lock to make the team in 2021. That said, he showed plenty of promise as a rookie, and should only get better with a year of experience under his belt and some traditional preparation. Together with former second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams he should therefore be seen as a favorite to earn a rotational spot in the Patriots’ secondary.