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11 Apr 2018

Futures: Taven Bryan

by Charles McDonald

This year's draft class has several players who serve as their own Rorschach tests. While the most extreme examples lie in the everlasting Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen debates, other players who tend to have extreme highs and lows are peppered throughout the draft class.

Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan falls right in line with that description. Bryan is fascinating because he clearly has the traits of an elite defensive lineman, but he struggles to put it together in a manner that leads to consistent production.

It's easy to see why some teams and analysts are high on Bryan. When he puts his athletic gifts together with sound process, he has elite flashes.

At his peak, he's capable of doing things on the field that only the top-tier NFL defensive linemen are capable of doing. He has moments where he looks like the next Ndamukong Suh.

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When Bryan is aware of his location on the field and how he functions as a cog of the defense, he can make some really explosive plays. He has an elite first step that gives him an immediate advantage over the vast majority of offensive linemen that he faces. On the occasions when he is able to pair his athletic ability with sound technique, he can knife through backfields with ease.

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From those two plays alone, the hype around Bryan starts to make sense. Only a small number of defensive tackles have the movement skills that Bryan has; in and of itself, that will make him a highly coveted NFL prospect.

However, those explosive plays aren't exactly the norm from Bryan. His first step is always flashing, but there are plenty of times where he fails to disengage and actually make an impact on the play.

Bryan also has a tendency to fly so far up the field after his initial first step that he erases any disruption he creates by leaving a gaping hole at the line of scrimmage.

     

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Plays like these can make for two-sided evaluations. On one hand, the burst and athleticism Bryan displays are rare. He gets out of his stance smoothly and up the field in a hurry. On the other hand, he shows off one of his biggest weaknesses: his ability to process and react to the actions of the offensive line. Instead of attacking, reading, and reacting to the movement of the offensive line, Bryan aimlessly flies up the field, nixing his ability to make use of his explosive first step.

At times, Bryan can get so locked into the diagram of a play that he fails to react to what's happening in front of him. Even on directed slants and stunts, defensive linemen need to be able to redirect and find the football.

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This play highlights who Bryan is as a prospect. The slant called by Florida is sending Bryan against the flow of Florida State's offensive line. Bryan starts the play off correctly by slanting into his run fit against the center. At the point of attack, Bryan has the pad level and hand placement needed to disengage from the center and make the play in the backfield. The hard part of getting the leverage needed to attack the center is done -- all Bryan really needs to do here is go tackle the running back.

     

Instead, however, he doubles down on his slant assignment and finds himself multiple gaps away from the outside zone play attacking the other side of the line of scrimmage. He gets so far out of his fit that he almost collides with his teammate who is working down the line of scrimmage.

That's who Taven Bryan is. The physical flashes are very real and will cause any coach to ponder what Bryan could turn into with the right help. On the other hand, Bryan frequently shows an alarming lack of nuance and feel for the game of football. Right now his game is similar to where Ra'Shede Hageman and Robert Nkemdiche were in their respective draft classes. Maybe Bryan will be the one to cash on his otherworldly talents -- he doesn't have the off-field concerns like Hageman and Nkemdiche, but his game has similar deficiencies and shortcomings. With the right staff and tons of patience, Bryan could be great, but at the same time his weaknesses can be break the backbone of defensive structure.

Bryan's the ultimate "boom or bust" defensive tackle prospect. It'll be fun to revisit his rookie campaign this time next year because he has such a wide range of outcomes.

Posted by: Charles McDonald on 11 Apr 2018

1 comment, Last at 11 Apr 2018, 3:00pm by Dan

Comments

1
by Dan :: Wed, 04/11/2018 - 3:00pm

The last two plays don't look that bad for Bryan. It doesn't look like he cost his team anything with his aggressiveness - it's not like he ruined the defense's gap integrity and let a RB run through a hole that he vacated. It's just that he missed opportunities to make a play on the ball - though barely even that, since it would've taken a great play from him to reach the RB in either case.

The last play is a toss where the RB takes it outside the numbers. Bryan is the play-side DT responsible for the A gap; it would take a pretty amazing play for him to disrupt the runner. When the QB releases the toss (at 2.37s), the RB is 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage and already as far outside as Bryan, with his momentum headed outside, while Bryan's momentum is headed inside and he's still engaged with the center. Bryan doesn't have much chance the get to the ballcarrier (although with a better play he could've been trailing the ballcarrier and reducing the room for a cutback). His main opportunity to influence the play was by disrupting the play-side guard who instead got a free release to the second level, but that opportunity came and went right after the snap because of the defensive play call.

On the next-to-last play, it's not immediately obvious (at 1.30s) if the QB is handing it off or just faking the handoff; the play call might even be an RPO. So it's not clear at that moment what angle Bryan should be taking. Bryan gets right in the passing lane for the WR screen and is also in great position to bury the QB if he keeps it. And if/once he did know it was a handoff, Bryan is essentially in the position of an edge rusher looking to bend his hips and get around the corner while the RB is in the position of a QB stepping up and away from the rush in the pocket. Probably it would've been possible for Bryan to get a hand on the RB (or at least disrupt his path a little more), especially if he'd known from the start where the play was going, but it would've taken an impressive play from an athletic DT.