With the Detroit Lions’ roster somewhat set at this point, it’s time to start looking at the players and what their role may be in the upcoming season. Expectations from February may have drastically changed since the Lions made their free agency moves and draft picks.
So we restart our 2019 roster review series with one player who may have seen his 2020 outlook drastically change after Detroit’s offseason moves: Austin Bryant. The Lions’ 2019 fourth-round draft pick didn’t have the rookie season he wanted. And while the Lions did released the player ahead of him on the depth chart, they also drafted a player that could jump right by him and start.
Let’s take a closer look at Bryant, his 2019 season and his outlook for 2020.
Expectations heading into 2019
As a rookie fourth-round pick, expectations were fairly low for Austin Bryant. He was coming off a torn pectoral from his days at Clemson, and although he was considered to be decent value when the Lions drafted him, Devon Kennard had the jack linebacker role locked down. Bryant was really only expected to receive subpackage play in his rookie year. Although, some believed his potential could lead to more playing time as the season went on.
Actual role in 2019
2019 stats: 4 games (0 starts), 8 tackles, 1 QB hit
PFF grade: 53.8 (Did not qualify for ranking at his position)
Unfortunately for Bryant, he suffered an upper-body injury in the opening days of training camp and started the year on injured reserve. He would eventually return to the roster, and play four out of the last six games in a small rotational role. In the season finale, Bryant received a career-high 53 defensive snaps, tallying four tackles.
In his limited time on the field, Bryant played much like the Kennard. Somewhat reliable in the running game, but did not provide much of anything in terms of pass rush.
Outlook for 2020
Contract status: Signed through 2022
On more than one occasion this year while discussing the Lions’ linebacker crew, I’ve completely forgotten about Austin Bryant, but there are several reasons not to overlook him this year.
Yes, the Lions drafted Julian Okwara, and he’ll undoubtedly provide more in terms of pass rush than Bryant. Yes, the addition of Jamie Collins Sr. could mean even more of Bryant’s playing time is cut into.
But, unprompted, Lions general manager Bob Quinn mentioned Bryant as one of the key players that could make big contributions this year.
“Austin Bryant is coming along,” Quinn told 97.1 The Ticket after the draft. ”You guys saw glimpses of him last year, but he’s a guy that we’re counting on to do some things this year for us, in terms of pass rush.”
Of course, there’s no greater sign that Detroit believes in Bryant than the release of Kennard. They made that decision before they drafted Julian Okwara, meaning they had at least some level of confidence in Bryant potentially taking over that starting role in 2020.
While Okwara is getting most of the attention for the jack linebacker role, let’s not forget that he is a rookie that will have to learn the defense during a shortened/limited offseason. Don’t be surprised to see Bryant get plenty of playing time this year, especially early in the season. Remember, Bryant was a guy who tallied 31 pressures at Clemson in 2018 and 8.5 sacks in each of his final two college season. He’s got some talent to be tapped.