When you see a college yearbook picture of Harrison Bryant you would think he is just some high school kid working at the local McDonald’s. Instead he is the 2019 John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s best tight end. Yet even with the award he remains a relative unknown from Florida Atlantic University.
A closer look will reveal a player with skills that will allow him to flourish in the NFL.
Harrison Bryant was born and grew up in Gray, Georgia, about 80 miles northwest of Atlanta. The townnow boasts a population of 3,197. Bryant went to high school at nearby John Milledge Academy where he starred in football, baseball and basketball.
Bryant is a big kid at 6’ 5” 235 lbs. He bench pressed 275 lbs and squatted 460 lbs as a senior. In football he played offensive tackle, tight end and defensive end. In his career he was credited with 32 pancake blocks, 154 tackles, 25 TFL, 16 sacks, 4 FF, a safety, 39 receptions, 608 yards and 12 TDs.He was All State as a junior at offensive tackle and as a senior at tight end.
Yet no one recruited him. He was an unknown as a junior. He had to send letters to schools in hopes that someone would come recruit him and offer him a scholarship. Here is a copy of the letter he sent out.
My name is Harrison Bryant and I am a student athlete at John Milledge Academy in Milledgeville, Georgia. I am a multi-sport athlete that has a passion for playing football, but I also enjoy playing basketball and baseball. I am also a member of the school shooting team.
This past season, I played Offensive Tackle and Defensive End for John Milledge. My team had a great season and we finished 3rd in the state . At the end of the season, I was voted All Region, All State and All County.
I work hard on and off the field. At this time, I have a 4.0 GPA. This success has helped me earn membership to the National Honors Society and Beta Club. Education is very important to me and I look forward to earning my degree while playing the sport I love. Please know that I understand that you have to be a good student before you can be a great athlete.
My parents have always taught me that successful people/athletes must have a great work ethic and always give 110%. I believe that my work ethics and effort level make me a great football candidate for your school. I believe that I have the character, physical strength, physical size, football IQ and the endurance that it takes to make a great college football player.
Thank you for taking the time to view my profile and I look forward to speaking with you soon.
The next season as a senior he was named Baldwin County’s Defensive Player of the Year , as well as John Milledge Academy’s Male Athlete of the Year.
It is amazing in this day and age where you believe every players is known then recruited that Bryant would have to beg teams to come watch his tape. He obviously had talent. Still today is unheralded, mostly unknown.
I’m here to rectify that with you.
Like I stated, Bryant has good size 6’ 5” 240 lbs and runs in the 4.60-4.65/40 range. He has strong hands, excellent agility, and good balance with some leaping ability. He is smooth in and out of breaks. He has a very fluid way about him. He just looks like a polished receiver.
These first few plays are against Ohio State. Ot is an early season game. The Buckeyes love to feast on undermanned squads as a tune up for the Big Ten season. In this first GIF Bryant is lined up in the slot against a redshirt junior safety Jahsen Wint #23. At the snap Bryant uses a jab step toward the inside to stop Wint’s feet then blows by him on a seam route. Bryant has to stay wide of the center of the field as to not allow the single high safety time to come over and aid in coverage.
The ball needs to be over Bryant’s right shoulder to not allow Wint back into the play. The ball is thrown on the correct line/ but it’s woefully short by about three yards. Showing some nice agility, Bryant is able to react to the play, turning and leaping, flipping his body back in a single motion to the QB. It is a nice move but, it takes time which allows the safety back into the play. With his back to the play the safety makes a solid play by waiting for Bryant to put his hands up for the catch then sticking his hand in between them.
Wint misses the ball with his attempt but is able to keep his arm lodged between the arms of Bryant in an attempt to pry the ball loose. Bryant shows great hand strength and resolve to hold onto the ball for a much needed first down.
Bryant plays most of the time in the slot or out wide, not much as an in-line blocker. So is he a tight end or just a big slow receiver? Tight ends are tough guys who enjoy the physical part of the game. They do what it takes for the team. On this play FAU is backed up on the one inch line. It’s 2nd and 13 in the Horseshoe (Ohio State’s stadium). It’s early in the season so you know the locals are screaming their collective lungs out.
FAU is probably using a silent count because of the noise so Bryant, who is lined up wide must watch the ball to get off on the snap. It is imperative he get a great jump to make the corner feel he is being threatened and force him to begin retreating. In this situation that is not easy to do as Bryant is covered by #1 Jeff Okudah who is (by many scouting services) the top corner in the nation, a probable top five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Okugah also has help in #4 safety Jordan Fuller and #20 linebacker Pete Werner.
Bryant comes off the line shoulders over knees like he is trying to press past Okudah which puts the corner in the back pedal. He then stops, turns nicely to give his QB the largest target he can, and covers the ball with both hands as he takes the hit by both Okudah and Fuller. He is still able to remain on balance and spin out for an additional three yards to bring up a manageable third and one. This is not some game changing play but a play made by quality players who is a team first guy. Bryant could have danced out at the ten yard line with the score 28 to 6 and no one would have said anything, bad but the extra effort is a signal to other players that we are still fighting. I love the effort.
In this next play it’s 2nd and 1. You need a first down. Bryant is lined up at the top of the screen going against...you guessed it...Jeffrey Okudah again. This is a back shoulder throw so Bryant again goes with the jab step inside then releases outside to gain separation.
Okudah is faster and quicker than Bryant. but Bryant has the height with the reach which he will use against Okudah. You will notice that Bryant is a hands catcher of the football. He turns around so he can 1) get two hands on the catch and 2) keep the ball away from Okudah who can’t reach the ball through Bryant’s body. This is a player who uses what he has (reach, height) to his advantage. It’s a smart play by Bryant. He makes his first down to keep the drive going.
Like I asked earlier, is Bryant a tight end of or a wide receiver? What are tight ends? They are tough with no fear in their games. Bryant will run any route. On this play Bryant is in the slot and runs a dig route right across the middle that is covered by cornerback Marcus Crowley.
It’s a nice play design by Lane Kiffin as the fake to the running back to the right gives the QB a window to throw the pass to the dig route. Problem is that the running back #28 James Charles needs to make it through the line then run a pass route into the flat. When he does it that will take the ILB #39 Malik Harrison into coverage and out of the middle of the field.
However, Charles doesn’t make it through the line fast enough, and Harrison can read the eyes of the QB and break on the play. Harrison is a ILB best described as a two down thumper who is strong against the run but poor in coverage. In cutting routes like the one Bryant is running that come into Harrison’s area are like a juicy steak to a lion. He lives for these opportunities. Harrison wastes no time in hammering Bryant and dislodging the ball in the process. Bryant on the other hand jumps to his feet like nothing happened, when you know that stung. A hit like that you can feel in your back teeth. I know. It’s happened to me before. It wasn’t a nice feeling.
It’s later in the game, the 4th quarter and your team is down 42-14. Bryant is again in the slot on the right side this time being covered by cornerback Marcus Williamson. Okudah was tired of getting beaten by a guy from a team they were paying to just destroy. So what play do they run? Yeah, a wrinkle of the same play Bryant got clobbered on earlier in the game. Bryant runs across the middle like nothing ever happened. Though this time the ILB rushes out to cover the back in the flat.
Bryant is able to easily get wide open off a move against Williamson. Here again it’s 42-14 in the 4th quarter. Bryant could just catch the ball and dive down at the 12 for a first down, but he continues on taking on 3 tacklers to get to the 7 yard line. From there they are able to score to put 21 points on the road in a hostile environment against a top 5 team. This performance will serve them well once they get into conference play.
FAU lost this game 45-21. Yet the experience of playing a top 5 team, on the road in front of 103,228 hostile fans and putting up 21 points served FAU well. The tough guy Harrison Bryant had 6 receptions for 79 yards on the day and left with some genuine respect from the guys on the home team.
This is what you look for, players who compete, no matter what the situation.
You play the game to win as a former Jets coach stated. You do your best, give what you got every play because most players have a very limited amount of plays in the NFL. You look for toughness, not just physical toughness but mental toughness as well. Hard times does not make character, they show true character. You want tough players who give it all and stand together when things go bad. Good things grow from that adversity when you have mental toughness and great character.
Spoiler alert: FAU ended up winning their division in Conference USA with a 7-1 record, beat UAB in the conference championship game then beat SMU in the Boca Raton 1Bowl. They grew together from the Ohio St game.
This next play is simple as even a high school receiver/QB tandem would run. No matter what is called you would switch to an audible when you see the coverage.
Bryant is your best receiver, the best receiving tight end in the nation. His man is heads up on him in off coverage. There is no safety in the middle of the field. This is like stealing. Once Bryant crosses the face of the defender, especially with his size, he is dead meat. Now the cornerback does a nice of job to make it back into the play. but as long as the pass is on target the TD is assured. Bryant makes a nice hands catch away from his body (like he always does) and the celebration is on.
This next play is similar to the last play in that USM (University of Souther Mississippi) is playing two deep safeties but the safety to Bryant’s side for some reason comes up to jump the short crossing route. This leaves the back half wide open so the corner has no help at all.
Bryant easily beats his man downfield by coming out off the ball quickly, slowing down like he is going to make a cut, then accelerating to blow by the defender. The pass needs to be in the back half of the end zone for and easy score. but again the ball is woefully short. The play becomes a back shoulder throw because of the errant pass but is still a gift TD. With Bryant’s height and reach the throw into the end zone should be high. This shows Bryant’s potential as a possible red zone monster even in his first year in the NFL.
Bryant had only three catches in this game for 75 yards, but all were TDs as they won this game 34-17. It was the last game of the season and assured FAU’s spot in the Championship Game. That is why you saw all the emotion from the team after scores.
This next play is a seam route with a busted coverage but it gives you some idea of the open field ability of Bryant. Remember he is 6’ 5”. Guys like that are usually top heavy when they don’t have huge tree trunk legs like defensive linemen. Balance is always an issue with tall receivers. They are running at a high rate of speed which can make them easier to take down with the slightest contact.
Bryant gets a free release up the seam. A less elusive player would have been dropped at the 30 yard line. Bryant makes a nice move around the defender without losing speed and gains an additional 23 yards. It’s a big play in the game with FAU up by only 3. They would soon take the ball in for the score. They end up routing Charlotte 45-27.
This next play is against FIU, the team that was expected to be the top team in the division. This is just a little delay route which allows the outside receiver to take away coverage into the end zone while Bryant comes out into the flat for the pass.
The play is actually covered well by the defense as the outside corner comes off his man and tries to take down the receiver but doesn’t wrap up the tackle. Bryant is deceptively strong with great balance. It takes more of an effort to get him to the ground.
The lights going of in the 2nd half of the GIF is the stadium operator. Whenever FAU scores a TD they flick the lights on and off. Why? I don’t know.
I wanted you to look at two things in this clip. First watch how easy and fluid Bryant runs without the ball and with the ball. Second, watch how naturally Bryant catches the ball. He turns around. The ball is right there, and he pulls it in like he has been doing this for 100 years. This is what a natural hands catcher looks like. They don’t fight the ball. They don’t try and squeeze the ball. Bryant is just so fluid in everything he does. He expects good things to happen when he is thrown the ball. It just shows.
This last clip is Bryant in a game where he had 10 catches for 182 yards and a TD. This is a GIF that shows a lot of Bryant’s skillset. He crosses the middle of the field without fear, easily catches the ball, avoids a tackle, knocks a defender to the ground in a violent collision, keeps his balance, and continues on until tackled by a high-low pair of defenders.
When you watch Bryant on this play you can see the talent and the fluidity. He just looks like an NFL player. He has good speed and size, very soft hands and a high character. He has played in some major venues and done exceedingly well.
Bryant is a willing blocker when asked to play in-line, but he is not that effective. His hand placement is poor. He lacks the kind of lower body power to move NFL defensive linemen. He is not a completely finished product, but he is an offensive threat with tools that translate to the NFL. I would love to see him at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine where you can see first-hand how he matches up against other players. I think he will hold his own.
As of now I have a low third round grade on him, but as an offensive threat I believe he will go much sooner than that. If the Jets could somehow get him early in the 3rd round it may prove beneficial to Sam’s development. Herndon was out all last year, and the other TEs in the group are not players who can stretch the seam.
What do you think?