Back Clemson’s “Other” Defensive End

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Clemson’s “Other” Defensive End

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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It doesn’t get much better than what defensive end Austin Bryant experienced at the college level. In four years at Clemson, he recorded 128 total tackles, including 36.0 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks.

It doesn’t get much better than what defensive end Austin Bryant experienced at the college level. In four years at Clemson, he recorded 128 total tackles, including 36.0 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks.

But as far as being an NFL draft prospect goes, Bryant appears to be the runt of the litter on the Clemson defensive line.

The other three defensive line starters for the Tigers, who Bryant played next to for the greater part of three years, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence, have all received first-round grades. As for Bryant, Walter Football projects him to be a third or fourth-round selection.

While admitting Bryant is difficult to project, the staff at The Draft Network called him “the worst of the bunch” in Clemson’s “well-oiled machine.”

He currently lacks baseline levels of anchor, extension, pass rush counters and play recognition to be a high caliber player. Instead, Bryant has promising reps as a widened defender, where he won’t have to set or anchor the edge. Bryant’s forecast is as a depth player only after four years at Clemson, he has notable growth before being considered to see field in high volume or as a starter.

With that projection difference, it’s worth wondering if the vaunted Clemson defensive line is actually hurting Bryant’s draft stock. The four-year player and former 4-star recruit was a great college player and didn’t have the worst statistics of the group, but the belief seems to be that he wouldn’t have recorded as many statistics with any other program.

It’s an interesting hypothetical, but it can’t be proven true either way.

Also, it’s not as if Wilkins, Ferrell and Lawrence didn’t benefit from playing with Bryant. Before the College Football Playoff, the general belief was that Lawrence took on the double teams in order for the other three defensive linemen to shine, and of those other three, Bryant possesses the least amount of skills that translate to the next level.

But then Lawrence didn’t play in the College Football Playoff because of a drug suspension. Without him, the Clemson defense did just fine, recording 8.0 sacks against Notre Dame and Alabama combined. Bryant registered 2.0 of those 8.0 sacks.

Staking a claim as the “worst” Clemson defensive lineman, on a line that may go down as the best ever in college football history, means you’re still pretty, darn good. Maybe not first-round good, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bryant was a second-round choice.

At least that’s what Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports predicted before the season.

With another highly productive season, Bryant should hear his name called in the back half of the first round. If not, he looks like a classic early second-rounder.

This was published last July, so, admittedly, it’s not the newest draft skinny on Bryant. However, it’s hard to argue Bryant didn’t have another highly productive season with 43 tackles, 14.5 for loss and 8.5 sacks, second-most on the team, in 2018. Maybe he didn’t raise his stock, but those numbers certainly shouldn’t hurt it.

So what changed?

Perhaps one other thing is hurting Bryant’s draft stock -- media fatigue. Everybody and their mother has written and talked about Clemson’s historical defensive line for about a year and a half. It’s only human nature for the public to grow tired of a certain topic after awhile. With so much hype going to the other three Clemson defensive linemen, there isn’t enough love left for Bryant.

Bryant, Wilkins and Ferrell all could have departed for the NFL draft last year but chose to return to school in the hopes of winning another championship. At the time of their decisions a year ago, The Greenville News reported that NFL scouts projected Bryant as a first-round selection.

Again, it’s an old projection, but it’s still hard to fathom what changed so mightily in a year after Bryant turned in another great season. So much Clemson hype and media fatigue could help explain it.

That doesn’t mean Bryant should be a first-round choice or is going to be a third-round sleeper. The 2019 NFL Draft is still three months away -- players are going to rise and fall on draft boards in the next 90 days.

The consensus take on Bryant is he possesses the least amount of skills that translate to the NFL. He’s the Ringo Starr of The Beatles.

Yeah, maybe Starr was the weakest link of that band, but he was still a pretty great musician.