Blogging The Boys will begin taking a look at some of the NFL Draft prospects that will be in the 2018 NFL Draft class. We’ll try to do this on a Friday night or Saturday morning so you can pay attention to that player in their next game if you should so choose. Some weeks, we will look at potential targets that will be within the Cowboys’ expected draft range. Others, we will highlight some of the elite members of the class.
The college football season enters week three this weekend. Mock drafts have been have been released all offseason long, but we finally get to watch for ourselves who the cream of the crop is for the 2018 NFL Draft class. Dubbed “The Year of the Quarterback” by a handful of publications due to USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, it is no surprise to see the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and even the Buffalo Bills attempt to put themselves in strong position to find a new face of the franchise. However, Dallas has their guy in Dak Prescott, so who should the Cowboys monitor in the draft process?
If the season goes the way we want it, the Cowboys won’t be making their first selection of the draft until the end of the first round. If everything falls perfectly, it may not be until pick number 32. With that said, it’s not very likely to expect LSU’s pass rushing superstar Arden Key or Florida State’s freakish safety Derwin James to fall to the silver and blue. However, what big time defensive players are realistic options to end up in the Big D?
Austin Bryant — Defensive End, Clemson
While all of the hype from Clemson’s national championship run goes to current Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson — and deservedly so — he did not do it alone. Clemson’s defense, specifically the defensive line, was among college football’s best in 2016. This year, the unit may be even better behind the coaching of coordinator Brent Venables.
One big riser among the Tigers’ defensive line is junior Austin Bryant.
Austin Bryant was thought to be a major contributor to help lead Clemson back to the national championship after losing to Alabama in the 2015 season. Unfortunately, Bryant broke his foot during fall camp prior to the 2016 season. Bryant was penciled in to be start at defensive end for the Tigers after learning behind Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson. But surgery on the Georgia native’s foot forced the then-sophomore to miss the first six games of last season. Once he returned to the field, the Clemson defense was already in midseason form. Therefore, Dabo Swinney and Venables had Bryant rotate off of the bench for the remainder of the season.
As a sophomore, Bryant recorded 13 total tackles, 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage, and was credited with 2.5 sacks in seven games for the Tigers. While he was not the big name of the defense or even a starter at that point in time, Bryant was still an impactful player for one college football’s most dominant defenses. In the title game versus Alabama, starter Clelin Ferrell went down with an injury which led to big snaps for the previously injured Bryant. Bryant recorded a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and complemented defensive tackle Christian Wilkins well in the big game.
This season, Bryant is a starter for the defending champions. He told Brad Senkiw of the Independent Mail that his injury has helped him “take advantage of every opportunity”.
“It made me realize you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity because you never know when a play could be your last, even in practice,” Bryant said. “You can turn a corner and boom, your foot breaks. You only get to play this game for a limited amount of time because of how violent it is. It definitely helped me realize that.”
Austin Bryant has more than taken advantage of his opportunities this season. Bryant has been even better in 2017, becoming a huge draft riser on a defense filled with future NFL talent. Christian Wilkins and sophomore Dexter Lawrence grab the majority of the headlines, but the entire defensive line for the Tigers is absolutely stacked.
Just ask Auburn. Last week, Clemson totaled 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss as it hounded Jarrett Stidham and Auburn's rushing attack. Clemson’s defensive line is so good that Austin Bryant, a player who had four sacks last week, is likely considered the fourth-best NFL prospect among the starting unit behind Dexter Lawrence, (No 2 in 2016's 247Sports Composite) Christian Wilkins (No. 25 in 2015) and Clelin Ferrell (No. 116).
Bryant has played like he has been shot out of a cannon this fall. The now junior has been an absolute force through two games. Number seven recorded five total tackles — four solo — in the season opener against Kent State. His play took off to another level when the defending champs welcomed in top-15 Auburn into town last weekend.
The Clemson defense got to Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham eleven times last Saturday night. Bryant racked up seven total tackles and brought down Stidham on four different occasions
Watch Bryant record his first sack, on the first play from scrimmage, of the night here:
Bryant battles with the right tackle, keeps his eyes on the quarterback, goes back inside, gets by his man, and attacks Stidham as he scrambles to get out of the pocket. On his second sack, Bryant again lines up at RDE and again gets by Auburn’s right tackle. This time, though, Bryant initially misses the sack, but he doesn’t give up on the play. Bryant continues to pursue Stidham and eventually brings him down for a big loss on third-and-fourteen.
Bryant records another one of his four sack of the same ball game with four minutes left in a one possession game. He gets a little help from a fellow Clemson pass rusher, but he dominates the right tackle yet again.
Bryant earned national accolades and recognition for his huge game in a prime time match up. While he still has some room to grow, specifically in defending the run, Bryant appears to be a player that will be ready to contribute in a big role as soon as next season. It has only been two games this fall, but Cowboys fans need to remember the name Austin Bryant as football season and the draft process heats up. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Ryan McCrystal mocked Bryant to the Cowboys at pick 26 in his Post-Week One Mock Draft.
You can watch Bryant’s full game versus Auburn here:
Saturday, Bryant and Clemson head to Louisville, Kentucky, for a marquee battle against Lamar Jackson and the fourteenth-ranked Cardinals. If you love the game of football, make sure to tune into the game to watch Bryant and the Clemson defense versus Lamar Jackson’s greatness. You will not regret it.
*Gifs are courtesy of the ACC Digital Network and stats are gathered from sports-reference.com