Making the transition from high school to college, defensive tackle Taven Bryan had to travel more than halfway across the country.
His next move — from the University of Florida to the NFL — is going to be just a short hop, skip and a jump, to Jacksonville, only about 75 miles up the road.
That’s the new home of the “Wyoming Wild Man,” who was selected by the Jaguars with the 29th pick in the first round of the NFL draft late Thursday night in Dallas.
He is the fifth Gator drafted by the Jags in the first round, joining defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (2015), Derrick Harvey (2008), Reggie Nelson (2007) and Fred Taylor (1998).
Bryan was expected to go a little earlier in the first round, likely either to Detroit (No. 20) or Atlanta (No. 26), but the Lions went with Arkansas center Frank Ragnow and the Falcons found Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley too good to pass up.
Most draft analysts did not have Bryan high on Jacksonville’s board in terms of a potential first-round pick. But when he was still there that late, the Jags made the move for one of the top-ranked defensive tackles in the draft.
Tom Coughlin, the Jags’ executive vice president of football operations, said Bryan was the best player available.
“Fortunately, when it came to our pick, we did have an opportunity to draft Taven Bryan,” Coughlin said. “An outstanding three-technique, penetrator, outstanding athlete who is 6-5, 293 pounds. He ran under five flat (in the 40-yard dash). Outstanding quickness, outstanding ability coming off the ball. Has position flexibility in that he can play inside, he can play outside.
“We’ve added another pass-rush, penetrating defensive lineman and he’ll fit in very good with our room.”
Bryan is the 52nd Gator selected in the first round and the 17th since 2007. UF has had six first-round picks in the last four years — Bryan, Fowler, linebacker Jarrad Davis, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, safety Keanu Neal and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries.
Of the six, five were juniors (Bryan, Hargreaves, Neal, Fowler and Humphries).
Bryan declared for the draft in December after having a dominant junior season in which he recorded 40 total tackles, 6.0 tackles for losses, 4.0 sacks and 3.0 quarterback hurries despite often being double teamed.
“This guy can reset the line of scrimmage,” said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. “Just because he doesn’t have stats does not mean that he is not productive. Disruption is a stat.”
In his first two years at UF, Bryan started only three games, but he played in 25 and often flashed his playmaking potential.
This past season, he turned all that potential in production and it’s led to him being a first-round draft pick.
Some draft analysts have compared Bryan to Houston Texas Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt because of his explosive power and ability to blow past — or physically dominate — opposing offensive linemen.
Bryan said any similarities he has with Watt just came naturally. He said he has not patterned his game after anyone else’s, and that would include Watt.
“I think it’s a hard time to pattern yourself after somebody, especially when everybody is so different,” Bryan said before the draft. “I can do things certain other people can’t do and they can do things that I can’t do.
“So, you’ll look at them, see where they excel, see where maybe they have a couple of tricks they use. Maybe look at something like that, but as far as patterning after somebody, I would say no.”
Bryan played defensive tackle almost exclusively at UF, but could end up playing some end at the next level to take advantage of his pass-rushing ability.
“I’m a very powerful rusher,” he said. “I’m usually (at tackle). I haven’t played much of anything else. When it comes to pass rushing I like to set everything off speed. I like to hit the speed, speed, speed, maybe throw an armbar in and rip, rip, rip, rip.”