Undrafted rookie CB Roderick Bryant looks to be the Jets 2004 diamond in the rough. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Ask any respected general manager around the league and most would agree that the NFL draft is a crapshoot. Scouting and research on the top college prospects is a never-ending process for NFL teams. The scouting combine is filled with agility drills, 40-yard sprints and a Wonderlic exam that test players’ physical and mental capabilities. Yet, year after year, NFL personnel executives are left scratching their heads on how some prospects slip under the radar and become productive players. New York Jets rookie CB Roderick Bryant has spent training camp wondering the same thing.
“A lot of teams slept on me,” Bryant said following a morning practice at Weeb Ewbank Hall this week. “Everyday I’ve been here, I think to myself that I didn’t get drafted and it motivates me.”
After beginning his career at West College Hills in California, Bryant transferred to Idaho for his final two years and finished his career with 91 tackles, 11 passes defended and four interceptions in just 23 games. Bryant’s potential caught the eyes of the Jets’ scouting department and the team immediately signed him as a rookie free agent following the draft. Bryant has responded by becoming one of training camp’s most pleasant surprises this year. While often praised for his performance on the practice field, Bryant has not seen it the same way.
“I think I’ve done alright,” Bryant said. “I’m still making a lot of mistakes. I’m still trying to learn everything (about the defense); trying to get all the little details down. I’m my hardest critic.”
Don’t be fooled by Bryant’s humble evaluation; he’s flashed the skills throughout the preseason and is practically a lock to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. In fact, head coach Herm Edwards during a press conference last week hinted last week that the Jets would find a way to keep Bryant, nicknamed ‘Gameday’ by his teammates, on their roster this year. Told of Edwards’ comments and Bryant shook it off as if he had just gotten beat for a long touchdown pass.
“I need to become a better tackler,” Bryant said. “Basically, I can get better at everything I’m good at now since there’s always room to improve.”
If Bryant seems to be his own worst enemy, running back LaMont Jordan might be his biggest supporter. The two teammates happen to be cousins and Bryant’s transition to the NFL this summer has been aided by the fourth-year running back’s presence.
“He’s always been supportive of me since college and high school,” Bryant said of Jordan. “He tells me everything I need to do, things that he sees, things that I need to correct. It has been a big advantage in having him on the team to tell me what I need to do to get better.”
What intrigues the Jets so much about Bryant is his untapped potential. Blessed with impressive size and quickness, Bryant believes he has the physical skills to become a starting NFL cornerback in the future.
“I think I’m very versatile,” the 6-foot-1, 190 pound Bryant said. “I think I can lock up receivers man-to-man, and I also love playing in zone coverage. I think I can do almost everything that any corner can do in the NFL.”
The team put Bryant to the test earlier this preseason after injuries decimated the cornerback position. Bryant got the starting nod in the Week 2 match up against the Indianapolis Colts and their high-powered offense. Bryant impressed coaches and teammates alike by leading the team in tackles (5) and showing excellent coverage skills during the game.
Bryant understands how coaches and fans could have overlooked him before the start of training camp. He acknowledges his status as a rookie free agent and the low expectations that accompany it.
“I have the mentality of a cornerback; I have to forget what happened in the past,” Bryant said. “I have a short term memory. I’m only worried about what I can do right now.”
What Bryant has done is distinguish himself from the rest of the crowd. For all the NFL scouts and general manager who place a great deal of emphasis on workout numbers, Bryant has a message for you.
“All the teams that didn’t give me chance, they’re going to see who Roderick Bryant is and regret that they didn’t pick me.”
If all goes well for Bryant, NFL general managers will look back at this year’s scouting reports and shake their heads.