Hunter Bryant has one game left as a Washington Husky.
On Friday, the 6-foot-2, 239-pound junior tight end and Eastside Catholic alum made the thoroughly unsurprising announcement that he will forgo his senior season and declare for the 2020 NFL draft.
“It’s been a long journey,” Bryant said in a video published on Twitter. “From the first time I picked up a football when I was five years old to playing at Eastside Catholic and winning championships with my brothers; from training at FSP to going to UW and winning a Pac-12 championship and playing in a Rose Bowl. I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped me out along the way — especially my family, my coaches, my teammates, but most importantly, the fans of Husky nation.
“With that being said, I’m declaring for the 2020 NFL draft and pursuing my childhood dreams of becoming a pro. I can’t wait to make the state of Washington proud.”
The tweet was published with the caption, “The Marathon Continues …”, and perhaps that’s appropriate. After all, Bryant’s journey at UW has featured several significant detours. Because of knee injuries, the Issaquah product played in a combined 14 games in his first two seasons.
But Bryant finally fulfilled his considerable physical potential this fall. In 12 games, the dynamic UW tight end piled up 52 catches (second best in school history), a team-best 825 receiving yards, 15.9 yards per reception and three touchdowns. He ranks third in the country among tight ends in both catches and receiving yards, and was named one of three finalists for the Mackey Award — which honors college football’s premier tight end.
But will he be the first tight end taken in April’s NFL draft? Rob Rang, a talent evaluator for NFLDraftScout.com, told The Times last month that “I can tell you right now, I think Hunter Bryant would be the first of the senior tight ends selected. This is not a particularly impressive senior class at the position, so I would expect a number of underclassmen to take advantage of that. He quite possibly could be one of them, given his talent and the way the NFL is trending now towards these guys who may be a little bit lacking in the prototypical size but are absolute playmakers. He certainly is that.”
A CBS Sports mock draft on Friday penciled Bryant in at No. 30 overall, to the New Orleans Saints. But a whole lot can change between now and April, and there are questions still to be answered.
Like, for example: will Bryant play in UW’s upcoming bowl game? Considering the tight end’s injury history, as well as the recent trend of high-profile players sitting out essentially irrelevant bowl games to protect their NFL futures, it’s possible Bryant may have already played his final game at UW.
But, if that’s the case, he already surpassed Husky coach Chris Petersen’s expectations.
“You just don’t know how guys are going to adjust and handle the whole thing,” Petersen said last month. “But we certainly thought that (he was capable of this production), and a lot of people did that were recruiting him. But like I always say, some guys are maybe a little better than you thought. Some guys are not quite (as good), or whatever.
“And I think just his ball skills and how he’s going to compete at this level is probably better than we thought, because you really don’t know until you get them here. But he can go get the ball.”
But who will get the ball once Bryant is gone? The Huskies have four more scholarship tight ends on their roster: junior Jacob Kizer, sophomore (and converted offensive lineman) Corey Luciano, sophomore Cade Otton and redshirt freshman Devin Culp. Of that group, only Otton — who has registered 29 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games — has caught a pass this season.
UW also touts a pair of 2020 tight-end commits in Mark Redman and Mason West, and four-star former USC commit Jack Yary could conceivably add to that list as well. It’s unknown what offensive system the 2020 Huskies will embrace under first-year head coach Jimmy Lake, and how said system will employ its tight ends.
But one thing is certain: Kizer, Luciano, Otton, Culp, Redman and West — talented as they may be — are not Hunter Bryant. It may take six Huskies to replace the production of the Pac-12’s premier tight end.
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