- Associated Press - Monday, April 23, 2018

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Taven Bryan’s draft stock has more to do with potential than production.

The Florida defensive tackle had 67 tackles, including 5 ½ sacks, in three seasons with the Gators. He was a 6-foot-4, 291-pound enigma his first two years in Gainesville, but came on as a junior in 2017. He had 40 tackles last season, including six for loss and four sacks, while playing solely inside.

He really played well down the stretch, showing a quick first step and the ability to disrupt offenses. Although he never took over a game, he routinely demanded double teams on a defense that lacked depth and talent up front.

NFL scouts and general managers believe Bryan is just getting started. That’s why he’s widely considered a first-round pick and a lock to be the first Florida player chosen when the three-day draft begins Thursday night.

“It would mean a lot really,” Bryan said at Florida’s pro day last month. “You always want to be better. You want to be the first pick, but sometimes that’s not realistic. You always wonder like how you could do a little bit better, maybe improved a little better, maybe interview a little better. Just working at the small things to get better at what I do.”

Bryan admittedly took his football talent for granted early in his college career.

He realized he was blessed physically, but he never thought much about it. He would casually talk about bench-pressing 450 pounds or squatting more than 600 pounds.

Teammates recant stories of his work ethic and weight-room feats.

“Squat, bench, curl, whatever it is, that man is a beast,” Florida defensive end Keivonnis Davis said. “Like a real-life beast. … He’s a monster.”

Added Gators running back Lamical Perine: “We would have a full workout, and he would go back in after everyone was done and have his own workout. He could lift the whole weight room if he wanted to.”

So no one at Florida was surprised to see Bryan raise eyebrows at the NFL combine in March.

He covered the 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds, one of five defensive tackles to break the 5-second mark, and benched-pressed 225 pounds 30 times. He topped all defensive tackles in the vertical jump (35 inches), the broad jump (9 feet, 11 inches), the three-cone drill (7.12 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.48 seconds).

“The guy’s an animal,” Florida safety Duke Dawson said. “He comes out to practice and shows it. He shows it in games.”

Bryan’s background has a lot to do with him getting this far.

He grew up in Casper, Wyoming, as the son of an ex-Navy SEAL. Bryan often tagged along with his dad to build houses. When they weren’t working, they were hunting, fishing and exploring mountain ranges and the high plains.

“He brings a kind of a hardcore type of attitude thing, never letting me slack off or getting away with things,” the younger Bryan said.

Football took over Bryan’s life as a teenager, eventually turning him into a big-time recruit from the Cowboy State. He ended up 1,600 miles away in Gainesville, looking to following in the footsteps of fellow Florida defensive stars Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler.

Now, he’s likely to join them as first-round picks Thursday night.

“I feel like I got a lot better,” Bryan said. “I just try to look back on everything and learn from my mistakes. … I think I’m a very powerful rusher. I never get blown off the ball. I always hold my gap, pretty stout for 290.”


More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25


For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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