For a team that had so many needs on offense, few had the Jaguars pegged for taking a defensive player, let alone one at a position group where they already had the most depth and financial investment. When you boiled it down, the move had some logic in regards to a long-term succession plan, as the team knew it was unlikely that they would be able to fit all of the monster contracts from Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson under the cap following the 2018 season.
Tom Coughlin likes to see the pass rush pipeline flowing. The New York Giants selected Mathias Kiwanuka with the 32nd overall pick in the 2006 draft when the team already had Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora. Coughlin didn’t technically draft Kiwanuka (as the ineffable Vito Stellino pointed out) but I can’t imagine he didn’t have at least some say in the decision.
The scouting report on Taven Bryan was that he was a freak athlete, and his impressive showing at the NFL Combine validated that assessment. In fact, his 9.91 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) was second highest among defensive linemen and eleventh best among all players in the entire draft class. With an athletic web as wide as Taven Bryan’s, it made sense in theory to try and see what he has to offer as a potential successor to Calais Campbell as a strong side defensive end.
He was a player that was labeled as raw with booming upside appeared to this regime as a malleable piece of clay to be molded and shaped by the coaching of Marion Hobby and mentoring of Campbell.
It was an interesting idea in theory. It’s time to scrap it.
As impressive of an athlete as Bryan is, his football IQ, play recognition, and instincts are equally unimpressive. Bryan has also failed to show he can consistently get off blocks and is unimaginative with his pass rush portfolio, which was a knock on him coming out of college.
Listen to this clip of him being interviewed by Zach Goodall before the draft.
In Bryan’s own words, he’s never been asked to play anything other than 3-technique.
When Zach asks to talk about his game and him how he wins, it’s “power/rip/rip/rip/rip.” This is a fine strategy when you’re lining up against average athletes at the collegiate level, but bull/rip every play isn’t going to cut it in the NFL. You have to be a technician and a master of your craft to play at a high-level and consistently win your match ups. It’s something that Yannick Ngakoue has done a phenomenal job of working at since entering the league as a rookie.
For the “he’s only played in a handful of games give him a break he’s still learning” — I know.
Defensive linemen traditionally take longer develop than most other positions, and this is especially true for a player like Bryan who was considered a raw project player with upside as mountainous as his quads.
However, due to Bryan’s shortcomings as a player (play recognition, instincts, football IQ), the Jaguars need to line him up as close to the football as possible and play him exclusively as a rotational 3-technique. It’s what he is familiar with, and it’s the position he played at Florida that made the front office smitten enough to invest a first round pick on.
I went back through some of Bryan’s splash plays at the University of Florida last season and it’s really not a secret what he was asked to do. Attack the A gap, win with a quick first step, convert to power, bully your blocker.
See ball get ball. Taven from 3-Tech. pic.twitter.com/O8YGgtMo2v— ♂️Quenton Shrieks (@JaxonFil) October 24, 2018
Now all of a sudden, he’s being asked to bend around the edge, maintain edge gap integrity, sift through chips and pulls, and more. It’s much more on his plate than he’s ever had, and while it takes time to learn something he’s not accustomed to as it is with anyone in any profession, playing defensive line isn’t exactly rocket science.
In his 2017 junior season with the Gators, Bryan had 17 solo tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 4.0 sacks. In 30 career appearances for the Gators, Bryan had a total of 5.5 sacks. For the draft pundits that were comparing him to J.J. Watt — Watt had 42 solo tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 7.0 sacks in his last year at Wisconsin alone.
For someone as physically imposing and freaky athletic as Bryan is, he should have absolutely dominated his opposition in college and put up incredible production on a Florida defensive line last season that had Jachai Polite, Cece Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, and Khairi Clark taking double teams. If he couldn’t dominate at the college level, why did this regime think he would be worthy of a first round pick in the NFL? And if they were going to spend a first rounder on him, why wouldn’t they play him at the position he knows?
I’m sure Taven Bryan is trying his best and working hard to improve. The simple fact of the matter is massive projects with a developmental curve as steep as Bryan’s shouldn’t be considered until the third day of the draft. But he’s here now, and hopefully the brain trust pulls the plug on the “big end” approach and moves Bryan back inside to give him the best chance to succeed and contribute to the team, both in the immediate and future.
So what say you? Should the Jaguars move Taven Bryan back inside to defensive tackle? Or does he need more time to develop at defensive end? Should the Jaguars move away from the whole “big end” philosophy?
Let’s talk about it.