If there’s one position we all thought the Lions needed going into the draft, it was any position along the defensive line. On Thursday night at the Pride Of Detroit draft event in downtown Detroit, I went around asking Lions fans who they thought the Lions would take in the first round. All the answers were Josh Allen, Brian Burns or Ed Oliver. This is what everyone thought the team would go.
Three rounds came and went and the Lions didn’t pick a defensive lineman in any of them. Finally, in the fourth round the Lions did what we all thought they should do. They selected a defensive end, Clemson’s Austin Bryant.
Some believe the Lions got a steal here. Bryant found a way to stand out on a line that included fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell, 17th pick Dexter Lawrence and 13th pick Christian Wilkins. While he fell to the fourth round, had he not been injured, many believe he could have gone as early as the second round.
The Lions selected Clemson's Austin Bryant, who still managed to record 31 total QB pressures despite playing on one of the most talented defensive lines we've seen in college, in some time. pic.twitter.com/hjJeoSse6P— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 28, 2019
We can see that Bryant has some talent. We can also speculate on whether or not he was a steal. But the best people to talk to are the guys that have been watching Bryant his whole college career. So we got in touch with Ryan Kantor of SB Nation Clemson blog Shakin The Southland to get some answers. Here’s what he had to say.
POD: What are your overall thoughts on Bryant’s time at Clemson?
STSL: “Austin Bryant won two national championships at Clemson and was part of the winningest senior class ever and one of the best defensive lines in college football history. He racked up 8.5 sacks over each of the last two seasons. As a junior, he had his career game against Auburn when we tallied four sacks. A few weeks later, he flashed his athleticism when he snatched a one-handed INT against Virginia Tech.
In his senior year, he tallied another 8.5 sacks. We wanted to see growth and even bigger numbers, but here’s the context you can’t miss. Halfway through the season he tore a pectoral muscle against Louisville. He could have had season-ending surgery then and focused on getting healthy for the NFL combine. Instead, he decided to play through pain for the reason of the year to reach the goals he and his teammates had set when they decided to return for their senior seasons.
In the college football playoff, when Clemson was without DT Dexter Lawrence and badly needed Bryant to come through, he picked up two sacks in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame and made a huge third-down stop (thanks to his patience and wit) on an shovel pass in the National Championship against Alabama.
Teammate DT Christian Wilkins has the big personality and is the fan and media favorite. DE Clelin Ferrell has the measurables and moves that make NFL scouts drool. Dexter Lawrence has the raw size and run-stuffing prowess. Austin Bryant gets overlooked as a result, but both his production and his character—as shown in his willingness to put his team above his draft slot—will make him a long-time favorite in Clemson.”
POD: What are his strengths?
STSL: “Austin Bryant sets the edge well, forces the run inside, and wraps up and tackles well. As discussed above, he had great toughness and is a high-character guy too. He is a second day talent that was discounted due to the injury. It’ll be interesting to see how much the injury really held him back as he’ll be healthy for his rookie season. Maybe he is ready to take it to another level, but we didn’t see it because of the injury.”
POD: What are his weaknesses?
STSL: “He isn’t a super elite pass rusher with a ton of moves at the line. I wouldn’t necessarily call that a weakness though as his 17 sacks over the past two seasons prove he is pretty darn good there too (for reference, #4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell had 21 sacks over the same time period). He may just have some additional development left in this area to continue that level of production against NFL tackles.
He is obviously coming off a torn pectoral injury and as a sophomore missed a chunk of the season with a broken foot. He needs to stay healthy!”
POD: What kind of impact can Bryant make in Detroit? What is his ceiling?
STSL: “At minimum, Bryant will provide depth as a capable pass rusher that is solid in stopping the run. His character, college production, and measurables (6’5”, 265lbs) give him a high floor so long as he stays healthy. On the upside, he could develop new pass rushing moves and be a well-rounded quality NFL-starter that will be viewed as a steal due to the injury.”