Hunter Bryant had a spectacular career at Washington, albeit cut short by a knee injury that kept him out of parts of two seasons.
Chris Petersen described the injury before fall camp in 2018:
“It’s a really unique injury. They rehabbed it, and it was really going well for him to do spring football. And then in a workout it just kind of swelled up and it wasn’t acting right. And then they did decide to go in there (for surgery).
“They (doctors) felt really good about what they did. And our doctors usually don’t come out saying, ‘We feel really good,’ but they did. So I think his long-term prognosis is really good; it’s just going to take some time to get him back.”
That held true, as Bryant returned to form at the end of 2018, making big plays down the stretch of his sophomore season. As a true junior in 2019, Bryant led the Huskies with 825 receiving yards, and his 15.9 yards per reception was best among all Huskies with at least 10 catches.
Can Bryant work as an in-line tight end at the NFL level?
No. He wasn’t even a good enough blocker to be effective in-line at UW. He’d get killed trying to handle NFL edge rushers, so he wont be asked to do it. Which is fine, it just limits formations he will be in, which limits snaps. He is a “move” TE, and will be very effective catching and running with the football.
Can he get better at blocking? Probably, but he’s not really built for it. “Narrow Build with thin lowers” is cited in one of these scouting reports from The Draft Network:
PROS: Move piece in the passing game that can cause some matchup problems given his versatility as a receiver. Good route runner who makes excellent adjustments vs zone coverage and makes himself available to the quarterback. Fairly deceptive setting up his breaks and he does well not to tip his hand. Got open often by scheme at Washington but I appreciate how he attacked space with good timing and sight adjustments. Has enough juice to present problems for linebackers and some safeties at the next level to match steps with him. Productive worker after the catch. Really good ball skills - makes good adjustments to the football and does particularly well tracking over the shoulder. Positions himself for favorable opportunities at the catch point and does well to compete through contact for the football. Willing blocker that is most effective in space connecting with back seven defenders.
CONS: Throw out any in-line expectations for Bryant and you’ll need to compensate for his lack of upside working in-line with other personnel. While he’s competitive and willing, asking him to block EDGE defenders won’t yield favorable results. Has a narrow build with thin lowers. Free releases were schemed for him and he has his struggles clearing jams and contact in his release. More physicality is needed at the top of routes. Hands will fail him despite some impressive moments in contested situations.
PROS: As the “move” TE in their offense, he is a matchup problem in the passing game. He plays with good instincts. When he has a flanker drive route, if he sees zone, he will find the holes and adjust his route. Because he isn’t your classic inline TE, he has some versatility in terms of where he can align. He displays good tracking ability on deeps balls and good hands when the ball arrives. Not a killer as a run blocker but shows the willingness to stick his face in there and compete. Displays good toughness going over the middle and making catches when contact is imminent. He is in the mold of Evan Engram of the NY Giants.
CONS: Undersized TE who will have to exclusively be used as an “F” in the NFL. He will get overwhelmed by the physicality in the NFL if he is used in-line. Not a complete TE in terms of the run/pass phase of the game. Doesn’t have good block strength or power at the point of attack. Any roster will need another, more complete TE on the roster, when imploring a traditional offense.
Route Tree - Sit routes, crossers, over routes and fades litter his tape, he’s quite good across the board here. Does well to carry quickness through the top of his routes. He’s got necessary burst and shows awareness to step routes into space to help produce larger throwing windows.
Hands - Has had some struggles with drops along the way, he can frustrate here in letting some get away from him. That said, his hand strength in contested situations is good and he’s done well to catch tough balls with significant body adjustment at the catch point, too.
RAC Ability - His burst is something in the open field. He’s got good juice and will remain a mismatch threat at the NFL given his long speed as he’s able to open up his strides. Good contact balance and showcased a little wiggle to produce anxious tackle challenges in space, too.
Power at POA - He’s not going to be effective here given his frame/stature. Doesn’t carry a lot of mass in the lower half and doesn’t illustrate a ton of leg drive or desirable foot activity to uproot defenders. Blocking will generally need a lot of work, especially if asked to play attached to OT.
Balance - Fluid athlete in the open field that should thrive against linebackers in coverage. Block framing is tempered by a narrow base, he’ll spin too easily off of contact and doesn’t channel linear drive to produce movement off the LOS.
Football IQ - Crisp in his routes. Appreciate his awareness of timing for looking back to the football, doesn’t tip his hand prematurely. There’s some concessions needed to protect him from raw skill set as a blocker if he’s going to find an early impact and not fall into TE transition trap.
It’s hard to argue with any of this. Bryant is really good at getting open against man and zone coverage, and he has the ability to sell his routes. Watch him convince Utah that he is staying in to block or possibly just flaring out for a delayed screen on this play action:
Yikes! That should have been a touchdown. Bryant doesn’t hint what he’s about to do or get antsy and take off early. Too bad Jacob Eason did get antsy in the face of light pressure.
Bryant ran a 4.74 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. It’s not eye-popping like Evan Engram’s 4.42 (2017) or even Eric Ebron’s 4.60 back in 2014, but on film Bryant shows the same kind of burst.
#Washington TE Hunter Bryant (currently TE1 on my draft board) finished last night with 5 catches for 90 yards.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 9, 2019
His stat line would have been even better if this TD wasn’t wiped out due to a penalty. Good example of his athletic skill-set though. pic.twitter.com/xDD6z5ioox
There is recent precedent for F tight ends like Bryant finding success at the NFL level (Jonnu Smith, Eric Ebron, Evan Engram). He’s not at big as Ebron or as fast as Engram, so he won’t be a first rounder like those two.
Husky tight ends Will Dissly and Drew Sample were both selected a little higher than they were projected. Ranked right around #75-100 overall, Bryant isn’t comparable to those two in terms of being a complete NFL tight end. However, he is a bit of a wildcard, and someone might fall in love with him as a big play threat.