Without a consensus No. 1 tight end in the 2020 class, could Washington football’s Hunter Bryant emerge as the top tight end in the draft?
This is one of the strangest tight end draft classes in recent memory. Usually there is one guy that has emerged at this point after going through the combine and individual workouts, but that’s not the case this year.
There are several candidates that are worthy of being the first tight end selected: Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins, Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam or Dayton’s Adam Trautman.
I’m going to suggest to you another name that I think is more than worthy of being the top tight end selected in this year’s draft: Washington’s Hunter Bryant. He has flown a little under the radar this season because Washington once again did not live up to the preseason hype and highly-touted quarterback Jacob Eason could not resemble any form of consistency in the passing game.
Bryant did not have the kind of NFL combine performance that he was capable of and that has caused him to dismissed a bit. He is thought to be an athletic mismatch that will be a threat in the vertical passing game and win matchups against linebackers, but be a big liability in the blocking game. Bryant’s combine numbers did nothing to elevate his position as he ran a disappointing 4.74 40-yard dash and only had 23 bench press reps, as well as a 32.5-inch vertical jump. Bryant was expected to perform much better and show off his athleticism because it is obvious that blocking is not his strength.
Bryant came to Washington as a four-star tight end recruit from Sammamish, Wash., and was looking to make an instant impact for a team coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance a year earlier. He was inconsistent as you might expect from a true freshman, but he had two games in which he led the team in receiving and helped lead Washington to a 10-3 season and a Fiesta Bowl berth.
He finished the 2017 season with 22 catches for 331 yards and one touchdown. Washington entered 2018 with playoff aspirations yet again, but once again failed to deliver on the big expectations. Bryant had a slight drop in production and recorded only 11 receptions for 238 yards, but did average nearly 22 yards per reception, showing off his big-play ability.
Washington had another 10-3 season, won the Pac-12 and went to the Rose Bowl.
Bryant came into the 2019 season with higher expectations, in part because of Eason’s expected impact on the passing game. He came through in a big way, setting career-highs in receptions and yardage, with 52 catches for 825 yards, but Washington stumbled to an 8-5 record. He showed how much of a threat he can be as a receiver, but he still has a lot to prove.
The Washington star is a big-play threat at tight end and that is evidenced by his career average of 17.5 yards per reception. He has the athleticism and speed to be a mismatch against linebackers and is a big-time vertical threat. Bryant is accustomed to making tough catches in one-on-one matchups, despite having just average height at 6-2.
Once Washington turned into a better and more dangerous passing offense, Bryant flourished and that could be evidence that he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
While Bryant has terrific big play ability and eye popping athleticism for a tight end, he has more than a few red flags. Despite his film painting a different picture, Bryant did not have good combine numbers and that is a red flag because he is not a good blocker and probably won’t make a big impact in that area in his pro career, so if he is not the athletic mismatch that is evidenced on tape, he could flame out of the league quickly.
Despite his uptick in production this past season, Bryant only has five career touchdowns and that is not a big number for someone who wants to be the first tight end taken in the draft and could be evidence that he was not targeted in the red-zone enough.
Bryant is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect in the draft this year. His film shows an athletic mismatch at tight end and a guy that has big-play potential and the ability to stretch the field vertically and be a threat after the catch, but it is slightly contradicted by poor combine numbers. His film also shows that he is a poor blocker and he will need to improve in that area at the next level. The risk is worth the reward with Bryant given the uncertainty in this year’s tight end class.
Projection: Late-second/early-third round