The place to go if you’re an edge rusher or defensive lineman seeking rejuvenation and elevation is the Bay Area, as the San Francisco 49ers have been proficient at igniting defenders seeking both.
Now, Austin Bryant is giving S.F. a try — as the former $3 million defender with the Detroit Lions is being signed to a one-year deal with the Niners, first reported by NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero on Wednesday, March 22. And by heading to the Niners, he’s rejoining a former college football teammate of his in Clelin Ferrell, as both played at Clemson.
Already, Bryant is being labeled “Kris Kocurek’s newest project,” as the defensive line coach will now get the chance to unlock the 6-foot-4, 271-pounder.
Length Was Considered Bryant’s Best Weapon
Before embarking on an NFL career, Bryant was a long-limbed defender for the Tigers and helped solidify a stout defensive line in Death Valley.
His arms were measured at 34′ 5/8″ and were used in helping lift Clemson to the national title in 2018 — the season that saw him deliver 14.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and post eight sacks. He went on to declare for the NFL Draft.
Draft expert for nfl.com Lance Zierlein spent his focus on Bryant’s arm length as his primary strength, first calling him a “Long-limbed base end with moldable potential as a rusher,” while also mentioning how he “uses length as a weapon” against opposing blockers.
His arms enabled him to prevent offensive linemen from getting their hands inside his chest right away. However, he slipped in the draft due to being described as “slow” after the ball was snapped and in lacking balance and coordination.
The Lions went ahead and took him at No. 117 overall in the fourth round and rewarded him with an entry-level four-year, $3,249,836 deal.
Bryant Has Dealt With Injury-Marred Career
Bryant, unfortunately, has dealt with an oft-injured start to his NFL career.
He was limited to four games and zero starts his rookie season. While his game action increased to six and 14 the next two campaigns, he was still dealing with ailments ranging from a thigh ailment to pectoral injuries. His 2021 season was his best statistical output — producing 4.5 sacks, 31 total tackles, 21 solo stops and five tackles for a loss. One quarterback he snatched was Pro Bowler Joe Burrow of the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.
In his final season in the Motor City, Bryant played in nine total games — delivering nine tackles, seven solo stops, three quarterback hits and one tackle for a loss.
Per 49ers insider for The Athletic David Lombardi, Bryant now becomes the 63rd player to get under contract by the 49ers. And, with Bryant situated, the 49ers now have five defensive ends with Ferrell, Nick Bosa, Drake Jackson, Alex Barrett and now Bryant.
Bryant also comes in after the 49ers lost Jordan Willis to a one-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday, March 20. The 49ers have lost three members of their edge rush room this free agency cycle with Willis, Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu — the latter two signing with the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs respectively.
What can also help Bryant: He already shares a Lions connection with the former Detroit DL coach Kocurek. Kocurek has already gotten the best from Ebukam, Omenihu, Arden Key, T.Y. McGill and Kerry Hyder as veterans who came seeking a spark to their career. Bryant now gets the chance to join that list.