With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 86 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with third-year cornerback Myles Bryant.
Name: Myles Bryant
Jersey number: 27
Opening day age: 24
Size: 5-foot-8, 185 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)
What is his experience? Before his arrival in the NFL in 2020, Bryant spent four years at Washington. A former walk-on who served as a backup during his true freshman season, he became a starter in the Huskies’ defensive backfield in his sophomore campaign and never looked back. Over the next three seasons, Bryant appeared in 39 games and registered four interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 3.5 sacks. He also was named to the All-Pac 12 squad either as an honorable mention or a second-teamer each year.
Despite a successful college career, Bryant did not hear his name called in the 2020 draft. Instead, he had to go through free agency before eventually arriving in New England. Despite his status as an undrafted rookie and the team’s depth at the position, he was able to see some semi-regular action in both of his first two seasons as a pro. In total, Bryant took the field in a combined 22 regular season and playoff games and registered a pair of interceptions as well as one forced fumble and one sack each.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off a promising rookie campaign that saw him appear in nine games and register an interception, the Patriots gave Bryant considerable action in training camp. But while he saw opportunities at both cornerback and safety over the summer and in the first preseason game, a non-disclosed injury forced him to miss some valuable practice time as well as the final two exhibition contests. As a result, New England released Bryant ahead of the roster cutdown deadline.
With him passing through the waiver wire unclaimed, however, the door was open for a return via the Patriots’ practice squad. Indeed, Bryant was re-signed to the developmental roster just a day after his original release. He went on to spend the first six weeks of the regular season there, getting called up for duty on two separate occasions. With starting slot cornerback Jonathan Jones suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 6 versus Dallas, New England then decided to turn to Bryant as the next man up.
He was officially promoted to the active roster in mid-October, and spent the remainder of the season there. Seeing action in 11 of 12 games down the stretch, Bryant ended the season with 13 in-game appearances and a playing time share of 59.6 percent following his elevation from the practice squad to the 53-man team: he was on the field for 429 of 720 possible defensive snaps between Week 7 and the Patriots’ wild card playoff loss against the Buffalo Bills; he effectively served as a starter-level member of New England’s secondary.
Filling Jones’ former role in the slot, Bryant had some ups and downs. He registered a sack and forced fumble in Week 7 against New York, broke up a pivotal pass in Week 13 against Buffalo, and notched an interception in Week 17 versus Jacksonville. However, he also had a tough time in the next two games against the Bills, missed 10.4 percent of his tackle attempts on the season, and in total allowed opposing quarterbacks to go 33-for-46 against him for 402 yards as well as one touchdown and the aforementioned pick.
What is his projected role? Bryant played a starter role for the Patriots in 2021, but that was more due to necessity than anything else. Heading into his third season in the system, the expectation therefore is that he will move back into a rotational but more positionally flexible role: Bryant will offer depth and experience at both slot cornerback and deep safety. While such a role will limit his time on the field, it appears to be better suited to his strengths.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots used him as a slot cornerback on three fourths of his defensive snaps in 2021, but Bryant has shown he can align in other spots as well. Before Jonathan Jones’ season-ending injury, for example, he played more snaps at safety than cornerback. With Jones back and the Patriots also investing a third-round draft pick in fellow slot defender Marcus Jones, Bryant might be used more like he was 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) in 2020.
What is his special teams value? Bryant’s role on special teams changed a bit from 2020 to 2021. After being used primarily on kickoff coverage as a rookie, a vast majority of his snaps as a sophomore — 38 of 40 — came on the field goal/extra point blocking units. With him possibly moving back to a less prominent role on defense, however, his opportunities in the game’s third phase might just increase again heading into his third year in the league.
What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots elevated Bryant to their 53-man roster last October, they signed him to a two-year deal through 2022. That second and final season is pretty straight forward: Bryant carries a $895,000 non-guaranteed salary that is also his cap hit. At the moment, though, that number does not count against New England’s books under the NFL’s Top-51 rule; he will only hit the salary cap if he makes the team after roster cutdowns in late August.
How safe is his roster spot? Even though he played a valuable role for the Patriots last season, Bryant is not guaranteed a spot on their 2022 roster. In fact, he might be in a worse situation this year: not only did New England’s safety group stay intact after re-signing Devin McCourty, the team also bolstered its slot cornerback depth by adding the aforementioned Marcus Jones in the third round of the draft. The team faces an uncertain outlook at outside cornerback after losing J.C. Jackson in free agency, but Bryant has not proven himself a starter-caliber player at that position through two NFL seasons.
One-sentence projection: The Patriots releasing Bryant after his 2021 season might be a surprise, but the team’s current depth at his positions plus his uneven performance in a starter-level role make it a realistic scenario.