Growing up in somewhat remote Casper, Wyoming, Taven Bryan loved football as a boy, but yet never showed much interest in the NFL.
“I didn’t really grow up following any teams,” the former Florida defensive tackle said. “I was kind of an outdoors kid. Just kind of, you know, fish, hunt. Never really did much. Ended up not really watching a lot of football as a kid.”
His interest, of course, has done a 360 since childhood. And, at some point tonight, he is expected to finally have a favorite NFL team. It’s just a matter of how long he has to wait to find out which team that is.
The consensus among the draft analysts is that Bryan will be selected somewhere in the second half of the first round of the NFL draft tonight in Dallas.
“His tape is really good,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “What’s really going to help him is the versatility of his game. He can play defensive tackle in the 4-3. He could play defensive end in a 3-4. You could play him as a base end in a 4-3 and kick him inside in a sub-package.
“I think his value to teams is where they’re going to look at him and say, ‘OK, we know he’s a tough kid, and he can defend the run, but can he affect the pass game?’ And I believe he can.
“Regardless of your scheme, I think he can affect the pass game, and I think teams are going to look at him as an ascending talent. And I do believe he’s going to go in the first round.”
The son of a Navy Seal, Bryan seems to have what the NFL is looking for in a defensive lineman. He’s tough, relentless and has explosive power, traits usually associated with a disruptive defender at the next level.
What Bryan doesn’t have is a great deal of experience. Heading into what would become a breakout season in 2017, Bryan had started only three games for the Gators.
So, with Bryan, there’s a little bit of risk involved, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.
“Taven Bryan is the kid out of Florida who has a little boom or bust to him,” Kiper said. “He could be great. He was disruptive, but he’s got to locate the ball a little bit better.
“He gets in the backfield and all of a sudden he’s not making the play, where you see guys like (Da’Ron) Payne and (Vita) Vea doing that. (Maurice) Hurst as well.”
In a dominant junior season last fall, Bryan was tough for opposing offensive fronts to handle. He recorded 40 total tackles, 6.0 tackles for losses, 4.0 sacks and 3.0 quarterback hurries.
Bryan said there’s enough good tape on him to relieve the stress of anyone considering drafting him in the first round.
“Yeah,” he said. “Tape is really what matters, honestly, and I feel like I have really exceptional tape, especially for a 4-3 defense. That’s most of what we played.
“Yeah, (I’ve been getting first-round feedback). I mean, hopefully. That would suck if I didn’t. It would mean a lot (to go in the first round). You always want to be better, you want to be the first pick, but sometimes that’s not realistic.”
Bryan said the current NFL defensive linemen he looks up to and would like to play like at the next level are the ones that play aggressively and with a nasty attitude.
“Like the Ndamukong Suh type,” he said. “Kind of mean, I think they’re kind of fun to watch. I like to see somebody who really dominates the line.”
Bryan had no favorite NFL players when he was growing up in Montana. The big man he admired most was his father, the former Navy Seal.
“The dude I looked up to the most was my dad,” he said. “He was the big dude in my life growing up.
“I just think he brings a kind of a hardcore type of attitude thing. Never letting me slack off, getting away with things.”
During those Wyoming days, when he was with his dad hunting and fishing and almost ignoring the NFL, there were no visions of being a first-round draft pick one day.
That, of course, has changed over the course of his three years in Gainesville.
Being a first-round pick is his goal — and he’s expected to realize it tonight.
“That’s the end goal,” he said. “You think about it, that’s your end goal in mind. And it usually happens if you work for it.
“I just want to come out there and be the best I possibly can be. And prove I’m a first-round pick, and I would really like to play exceptionally well next year.”
Gators in NFL draft
Where Florida players are projected to go in the 2018 NFL draft:
Player; Position; Projected round
Taven Bryan ; DT; 1
Antonio Callaway; WR; 3-5
Duke Dawson; DB; 3-4
Eddy Pineiro; K; 5-6
Marcell Harris; S; 5-6
Johnny Townsend; P; 6-7
Mark Thompson ; RB; Free agent
Brandon Powell; WR; FA
DeAndre Goolsby; TE; FA