Washington defensive back Myles Bryant has a relatively good chance of making the New England Patriots’ roster based solely on the fact that he’s an undrafted cornerback.
The Patriots’ track record with signing rookie cornerbacks is incredibly impressive. In fact, they’ve been significantly more successful signing undrafted cornerbacks than drafting at that position in the second round.
Here are the six best undrafted cornerbacks the Patriots have signed since 2000 and their approximate value, a Pro Football Reference metric, per season:
Malcolm Butler: 6.67
JC Jackson: 4
Kenny Moore: 4
Jonathan Jones: 2.75
Randall Gay: 2.43
Cre’von LeBlanc: 2
Justin Coleman, who’s gone on to have success with the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, isn’t included because he originally was signed by the Minnesota Vikings. He averages 2.8 AV per season.
Here are the six cornerbacks drafted by the Patriots in the second round since 2000 and their approximate value per season:
Darius Butler: 2.9
Cyrus Jones: 1
Duke Dawson: 1
Joejuan Williams: 1
Terrence Wheatley: .33
Ras-I Dowling: .25
There is some cherry-picking here, but the point still stands. And to be fair to the Patriots, we are eliminating these cornerbacks drafted in rounds outside of the second:
Devin McCourty, first round: 8 AV per season as a cornerback (2010-2012)
Asante Samuel, fourth round: 7.8
Logan Ryan, third round: 5.1
Ellis Hobbs, third round: 5
Darryl Roberts, seventh round: 2.75
Jonathan Wilhite, fourth round: 2.5
Alfonzo Dennard, seventh round: 2.67
Bryant is a pint-sized defensive back who, at 5-foot-8, 183 pounds, played all over the Huskies’ defense but projects as a slot in the NFL. There is not a strong track record of cornerbacks who stand 5-foot-8 or shorter — Bryant is officially 5-foot-7 and 7/8-inch — succeeding in the NFL.
The best player who fits that criteria, and also was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine since 2000, is Tim Jennings, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound cornerback out of Georgia who went on to play with the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and averaged 5 AV per season. He made two Pro Bowls in 2012 and 2013. Captain Munnerlyn, LaMarcus Joyner (who moved to safety) and Nickel Robey-Coleman round out the best of the bunch.
Bryant, who ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash, is not as fast as any of those players. He does have top-end quicks, however. He ran a 6.81-second three-cone drill and 4.02-second short shuttle at the combine in February. Bryant finished fourth among all players invited to the combine with his three-cone drill and second in the short shuttle.
That quickness shows up on tape. He moves fluidly in the secondary and can change direction with ease. He didn’t make any wasted steps on one of two interceptions against Hawaii in 2019 when he essentially ran the route better than his opposing wide receiver.
His other interception against Hawaii was even more impressive. He followed his receiver in motion, but that player turned around for a fake handoff. Bryant shifted his focus to another slot receiver who went deep. Washington was in a Cover-3, and the back half of the field wasn’t Bryant’s assignment, so he passed him off. Bryant turned to a third receiver who entered his zone and stole the ball away for a pick.
Overall, Bryant only allowed 14 catches on 21 targets for 117 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions in 2019.
Bryant primarily played in the slot in 2017 and 2018 but spent the majority of his snaps at free safety as a senior in 2019. He showed off decent range but might not have the speed to play there in the NFL. It’s possible his instincts and quick change of direction could make up for that lack of speed back deep, but he seems like a more natural slot cornerback.
Bryant’s lack of size plays into perhaps his most glaring weakness as a player, and that’s his tackling ability. He has a tendency to whiff or get trucked. He missed 13.8 percent of tackles in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. He missed at least 11 tackles in each of his three seasons as a starter.
Bryant’s deficiencies as a tackler will be an issue with the Patriots, who expect their safeties and slots to be excellent in that regard. Bryant has an uphill battle to make the Patriots’ roster because of New England’s depth at the position. Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty are locks to make the 53-man roster, and Joejuan Williams and Justin Bethel are near-locks. Bryant will be competing with roster bubble players and longshots like D’Angelo Ross and Lenzy Pipkins.
It’s entirely possible Bryant is the Patriots’ latest undrafted cornerback find. He has the skills and versatility, but he faces steep competition to make the 53-man roster. His best shot of NFL glory might be on another team. That’s the path LeBlanc, Moore, Coleman and Roberts took after being waived by New England.