When the Seahawks used their fourth round pick at 109th overall on cornerback Coby Bryant, they selected the 2021 Jim Thorpe Award winner. Since 1986, this prestigious honor chosen by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame recognizes the top defensive back in college football for that season.
Interestingly, Bryant won the award over his Cincinnati teammate, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who was taken fourth overall by the Jets in the first round. Gardner certainly garnered more buzz and hype going into the draft and understandably so. At 6-foot-3 with 4.4 speed, he possesses all the traits you want in an NFL corner.
Along with Gardner, Derek Stingley was taken third overall by the Texans one pick earlier after a solid career at LSU. However, injuries piled up for him and he didn’t compete in a full season after his true freshman year in 2019.
With Gardner and Stingley being the first two cornerbacks off the board, Bryant was the 12th cornerback drafted despite his outstanding performance at the college level. Somehow, NFL teams thought there were 11 cornerbacks better than the 2021 Jim Thorpe Award winner, though he wasn’t surprised or deterred by falling into day three.
“Not necessarily, all I need is just a lane,” Bryant told reporters on Saturday after learning he had been drafted by Seattle. “I wasn’t really focused on what round it was or whatever, just as long as I got the opportunity . It was just up to me to seize that opportunity once it came.”
Obviously, this particular award is not handed to the cornerback that projects to be the best NFL player or who lights up the combine or pro day testing. It is handed to the best performing corner in college football. Based on how past winners have performed at the next level, however, Bryant projects well as an NFL player.
Several great defensive backs in the NFL are former Jim Thorpe Award winners. All-Pro safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Berry won it in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson won the award in 2010.
Even the former winners that didn’t end up becoming Pro Bowlers carved out solid careers. Of the 13 winners before Bryant since 2008, 12 played at least a full season worth of games in the NFL. Nine have appeared in at least 50 NFL games.
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The fact that the committee chose Bryant as the winner instead of some of the bigger named blue-chip corners in this class says something about him. For some corners in this class, they burst onto the scene with one mammoth season in college and earned all the hype and praise that comes with it. For Bryant, it was a slow burn into an outstanding career at Cincinnati.
First off, Bryant was a five-year impact player for the Bearcats, taking full advantage of the extra year of eligibility due to COVID. He has played through a number of injuries throughout his college career, displaying his toughness. He led the Bearcats in interceptions and passes defended in 2020. In his final four seasons, he produced nine interceptions and 26 pass breakups.
Last season, on top of his excellent productivity across from Gardner, Bryant was named a team captain. There is something to be said regarding a player who worked his way up the system for five years, becoming a captain, and captured a national award in his senior year.
Bryant now looks to become the next in the long line of successful Thorpe Award winners in the NFL. Seahawks general manager John Schneider gave the new corner a glowing review when speaking with reporters at the conclusion of the third day of the 2022 NFL Draft.
“Coby was really buttoned up too as a pro, especially down at the Senior Bowl,” Schneider said. “And then all the guys that went into the school, everything he got out of the coaching staff and everything, they called him the culture changer.”
Regularly toasted by quarterbacks over the past few seasons, the Seahawks are certainly in need of a boost in the pass defense department. Bryant will try to get the defense back to the days of the “Legion of Boom,” who he grew up idolizing.
“I watched those guys growing up, they were actually my favorite group of DBs growing up. Those are kind of like my guys that I always used to watch and look up to.”
With rookie camp set to commence this weekend, Bryant’s next step will be competing for a starting role in Seattle’s secondary this fall. If his past from him is any indication, as the franchise aims to get back into contention, he’ll be an integral part of those efforts on and off the field.