Life in the NFL has been tough for Austin Bryant. Ever since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, Bryant has fought through injury after injury with minimal time actually on the field. He entered the league having played through a torn pectoral muscle in the final half of his last college season. He quickly suffered another pectoral injury, taking away three-quarters of his rookie season. And then he missed most of 2020 with an injury that cost him training camp, as well.
But every new year represents a new opportunity. With a full offseason, a completely new regime, and a roster that could certainly give him an opportunity to play, is this the year we at least see what the Lions have in the former Clemson Tiger?
Previous roster previews:
- Amani Oruwariye’s make-or-break season
- Can Romeo Okwara elevate his game again?
- Can David Blough contend for the backup job?
Expectations heading into 2020
Bryant finished 2019 strong in his NFL debut. In the final four weeks of the season, Bryant got on the field, tallied eight tackles, and a QB hit in 133 defensive snaps. Unfortunately, though, he suffered an injury in the season finale.
It’s unclear the nature of that injury, but it appears that may have been serious enough to impact the following season. Bryant entered training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and would end up staying on the list for the entirety of camp. Entering the season on the reserve/PUP list meant that Bryant would miss the first six weeks of the season.
But there was still some hope Bryant would be able to return and have a significant role. Detroit wasn’t particularly stacked on the edges, with Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, and Julian Okwara as their primary guys. If Bryant could eventually make it on the field, there was a role for him to finally showcase his talent.
Actual role in 2020
2020 stats: 6 games (1 start): 17 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 blocked punt
PFF grade: 54.8 (102nd out of 124 EDGEs)
Unfortunately, while Bryant’s stay on the PUP list was only eight weeks, he only managed to play two games before suffering another injury. An issue with his thigh caused him to miss three more games before he finished out the season with four straight game appearances.
Bryant’s performance on the field wasn’t particularly noticeable—outside of the blocked punt—which is somewhat understandable considering the guy has barely played or practiced with the Lions for an extended period of time. Still, given that Julian Okwara and Trey Flowers were on IR for the final half of the season, it would have been nice to see Bryant flash in his limited opportunities.
Outlook for 2021
Contract status: Signed through 2022
This year, the Lions brought in some competition for their edge depth. While Flowers and the Okwara brothers remain, Bryant will also have to compete with the likes of Charles Harris and Robert McCray for a spot on the roster. If he can beat those two out, there’s still a role for him in Detroit as a rotational player.
However, it’s unclear how good of a fit he’ll be as an outside linebacker. He’s just an average athlete for his position and played better as a run defender than a pass rusher at Clemson (despite 8.5 sacks in each of his final two seasons). In essence, it appears he was a better fit for the previous regime.
To add to that complication, Bryant is already dealing with yet another injury. He missed the final portion of minicamp with an undisclosed injury. The good news is that head coach Dan Campbell noted it was not a significant injury.
“No big deal. We’re just holding him to be smart about it,” Campbell said. “We expect him to be ready to go for training camp, full, no problem.”
The upcoming month of training camp will be of major importance to Bryant. He’ll have to prove he can both stay healthy and fit under this new regime just to land a spot on the 53-man roster. But if he can flash in camp and the preseason, Bryant still has an opportunity to get on the field and get his NFL career finally off its feet.