The New England Patriots have a J.C. Jackson-sized hole to fill on their defense.
Jackson’s five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers leaves the Patriots without a Pro Bowl-level cornerback since the days of Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs. Given this fact, many believe the Patriots’ biggest need comes in finding a cornerback.
Instead of trying to find a reason to dispute this fact, we’ll agree. Despite the re-acquisition of Malcolm Butler, New England’s going to need to add a true number one corner if they want to even think about contending in a conference that has loaded up on talent this offseason. If they’re going to draft one, it needs to be done in 2022. Even if you don’t believe there’s a way to contend this season, taking the ‘year too early’ approach allows rookies some time to develop and find their footing. Here’s one example.
Name: Coby Bryant
School: Cincinnati (RS-Junior)
Opening day age: 23
2021 stats: 14 games, 44 tackles, 11 passes defended, 2 interceptions
Size: 6’1”, 193lbs
Expected round: 2nd
2022 #Patriots Draft Target Thread— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 24, 2022
CB Coby Bryant#Cincinatti
(6’1” - 191lbs)
Long corner who likes to turn and run. Bryant can play physical and won’t have any problems holding up outside. His potential has drawn a lot of people in over the past two years. pic.twitter.com/KD0demOB7G
Strengths: Before we get into what makes him a top-100 pick, it’s important to state how similar of a game Bryant plays to former Patriots stars. Throughout the draft process I’m sure you’ve heard about New England’s penchant for adding cornerbacks with man coverage experience. A University of Cincinnati graduate, all Coby Bryant knows is man coverage. Much like J.C. Jackson coming out of Maryland and Asante Samuel coming out of UCF, Bryant will enter the league with more man coverage snaps under his belt than pretty much any other prospect.
Another rep against Doubs here where he does the same thing. Almost let’s the WR’s feel like he’s running free but sticks to him and muddies things up at the catch point. pic.twitter.com/kLqQsUQU4G— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 24, 2022
Other than his abilities as a man coverage player, Bryant is at his best when he’s allowed to get physical. He’s a strong guy but his discipline at the line of scrimmage is what sets him apart. When likes to get his hands on a receiver and throw off their timing. He’s patient enough to pair that with a late open that keeps him in the receivers pocket through the stem of a route. That’s some of the habitual stuff that is hard to teach so you hope a corner enters the league with it.
Bryant always looks like he’s dating the receiver to run their route. Eric Crocker explains the difference between opening the gate and keeping it closed in this thread so you should check that out. https://t.co/YfGpdCESoJ— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 24, 2022
Weaknesses: While the NFL looks to get quicker, longer, and more versatile at the cornerback position, Coby Bryant is a throwback. A throwback in the sense that he provides none of those things. A strider, Bryant has long speed but has shown some deficiencies in the short area that really hamper him in zone coverage. His height and weight are that of a full time outside corner, but his arms are a bit short for that of a man that stands at 6-foot-1.
Bryant won’t walk into the NFL and be a liability, but in the day of do-it-all defensive backs who provide value in multiple spots, he’s the guy who will give you solid but unspectacular reps exclusively on the outside. Perhaps that is the reason why his value has dipped over the past two months.
What would be his role? We’ve said the same thing for pretty much every cornerback we’ve covered so far this offseason. New England won’t put pressure on them to become their top corner right away, but that will be the expectation in year two and beyond.
Does he have positional versatility? It’s rare that you see a top-100 prospect enter the league with this answer being no. Bryant plays outside man coverage and that’s about all he does right now. If we talked about scheme versatility, there’s hope that he could develop into a really solid zone player. Unfortunately we’re strictly talking positional versatility, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a situation where Bryant can play anywhere other than outside.
Who’s his competition? Through their signing of Malcolm Butler and the return of Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones, New England has enough at cornerback for us to believe that they won’t be relying on a rookie to guard the opponents number one receiver. Bryant would serve as a depth/number two option alongside the likes of Terrance Mitchell and Joejuan Williams.
Why the Patriots? As much as we all loved the signing of Malcolm Butler (he says half sarcastically) New England still has to make their move for a number one cornerback. Bryant was that player for two years in a system that included Amhad ‘Sauce’ Gardner who is likely going to be a top-10 pick. He’s got the upside to serve as a top man at the next level.
Why not the Patriots? New England will add a cornerback next month, but the question remains, what kind? Could they make a move for a day one, top option like Ahmad Gardner or Derek Stingley Jr? Probably not. Could they look for a versatile option like Kyler Gordon? Maybe. Or do they look for a player like Bryant or Andrew Booth Jr, who need some time to develop but have that elite ceiling? That feels like the most likely option, but it’s not the only one.
Verdict: Coby Bryant’s upside is enough for me to make this a yes.