Going into the season, the top-ranked tight end on my preseason big board for the 2020 NFL Draft was Brycen Hopkins from Purdue. Not much has changed there. Hopkins is still my top tight end, and I think his skill-set translates very well from an in-line position and as a vertical threat when running out of the slot. Even though he was my clear cut top tight end, there’s another player that’s secured the second-ranked spot on my tight end rankings.
That player is Hunter Bryant from Washington. Going into the season he showed plenty of potential, and he’s now starting to figure out what type of player he can be. It’s been clear all season that he’s developed chemistry with transfer quarterback Jacob Eason. On the season, they’ve connected for 52 receptions, 825 yards, and three touchdowns. By far, it’s been the best season of Bryant’s college career, and he’s officially declared for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Before coming to Washington, he was a four-star recruit out of Eastside Catholic in Bellevue, Washington (the same hometown as former teammate Drew Sample). He was recruited all over the country, and that included teams such as Auburn and Oklahoma. Regardless of the heavy interest from colleges all over, he verbally committed to the Washington Huskies and followed through with his commitment by signing with them on National Signing Day.
Three years later, Bryant has emerged as a top-100 player across big boards everywhere. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his name called somewhere on day two of the 2020 NFL Draft when we get to April. Let’s take a look at what’s made Hunter Bryant such an intriguing prospect and figure out why he’s playing some of the best football of his career.
Helping the Offense Find Its Rhythm – Mesh Concept and Mesh-Sit
Often times, we hear an offense having a ‘safety valve’. More often than not, it’s their tight end that becomes that consistent piece in the middle of the field. Sometimes it’s the running back who becomes that check down and stick-mover for the passing game, but plenty of times it’s the tight end (think Jason Witten for the Cowboys). Hunter Bryant can certainly become that safety valve for a young signal-caller at the next level.
For starters, we see Washington run mesh-sit with their tight ends. This is a zone coverage beater, and the play above is a perfect example. You’ll see both tight ends cross in the middle of the field and then sit in front of the zone coverage. Before the snap, Bryant goes into motion to the left and then runs the route with ease. Once Bryant throttles down at the end of his route, the quarterback (Jacob Eason) delivers the pass, and Bryant secures it for positive yardage.
On the play above, the Huskies run crossers across the middle of the field. This allows Bryant to break free and then create yards after the catch. Whenever you watch Bryant, you’ll immediately notice a high percentage of crossers and mesh concepts. It’s what has helped his junior season take off the way that it has.
Versatile Piece from the Slot
Beyond just running mesh concepts and all that jazz, you’ll notice that Hunter Bryant is incredibly versatile. Whether he’s running out of the slot or aligned as an in-line blocker, he’s a queen-like chess piece for the Huskies offense. That will translate to the next level, where NFL teams will fall in love with that versatility.
Much like plenty of the plays in this article, you’ll notice Hunter Bryant operating out of the slot. The play above is no different. The Huskies are faced with a blitz from USC, and Bryant is able to move quickly out of the slot and be that safety valve for Eason.
Creating Yards After the Catch
As you’ve seen on plenty of the clips so far, Hunter Bryant certainly has a tendency to create yards after he catches the ball. Of his 825 receiving yards, Hunter Bryant has 416 yards after the catch. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he ranks 37th in the country for yards after the catch. Whichever team takes him in the 2020 NFL Draft, they’re going to be able to utilize the versatile chess and he’ll be able to create plenty of extra chances for himself.
On the season, Bryant only had three touchdowns so the film clip above showcases just one of them. The Huskies come out with a double tight end look to their right. Bryant is split outside the tight end (Cade Otton TE 87) that is on the line-of-scrimmage (LOS). It almost looks like it could be a post-corner between the tight ends but it’s more of a clearing route by Otton and it’s certainly a post route by Bryant. Regardless, Bryant makes the safety regret biting upfield so early and so aggressively. He comes down with the catch and then puts his athletic ability on display as he’s off to the end zone.
Against USC, not only did Bryant show his ability to create yards after the catch, he also puts his ability to break some tackles on display. He shakes off two tackles before turning upfield and picking up a first down. Like I’ve mentioned, there’s a tendency for Bryant to run across the middle of the field and attack defenses after the catch. That skillset will be coveted by plenty of NFL franchises.
Whenever you’re scouting a tight end, you always want the total package. You want one who can catch, get yards after the catch, and be a willing blocker. That’s exactly what Hunter Bryant is — a willing blocker. He’s far from perfect and isn’t like his former teammate, Drew Sample, but he certainly tries and gives every attempt everything that he has.
On the play above, you’ll see Hunter Bryant run behind his offensive line and pick up the edge defender. His pad level is low, his hand placement is good, and his lower body (base) is where it needs to be. He does stagger backwards after the initial contact, but he still keeps his target in front of him and does a good job with his lower body to create some type of opening off his inside hip. These blocks won’t “wow” anyone but the effort is there from Bryant and if he can become more consistent as a blocker, it’s only going to help him at the next level.