The defensively inept Oakland Raiders were seemingly dealt a serious blow when 33-year-old ex-Patriot Richard Seymour went down during Week 8 with a hamstring injury. Seymour was swiftly placed on injury reserve after the symptoms didn't subside in practice, effectively ending his 2012 campaign during an all-important contract year.
Seymour was playing well enough up until that point, recording 15 tackles, 3 sacks and earning a nifty top-12 defensive tackle grade courtesy of the wunderkinds over at Pro Football Focus. But the Raiders had an unlikely card up their sleeve: a 2009 undrafted free agent out of a little school in Cambridge known as Harvard.
DT Desmond Bryant didn't just suitably fill the position vacated by Seymour--he outplayed it--compiling 18 total tackles and 4 sacks in his absence. Even more impressively, the Raiders' defense improved by a drastic 3.5 points a game during the second half of their season. It'd be difficult to pin a late-season turnaround on Bryant alone, but his impact utilized in a variety of fronts and techniques (1- and 3-technique, mainly) can't easily be refuted.
Why He's a Good Fit: Even after signing DT Armond Armstead, the Patriots are still admittedly thin along the interior of the defensive line. Besides the obvious local tie-in, Bryant possesses some Patriot-esque size: 6'6" and reportedly beefing up to 311 pounds in the four years he's been in the league.
Because of the relatively small sample size (just 18 career games started), Bryant could be had inexpensively. With PFF grading him as the best defensive tackle in free agency, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal in the market on a strictly dollars-to-production ratio. DT Richard Seymour is also set to be a free agent, and while a Seymour-New England reunion isn't entirely out of the question, Bryant is the player to pursue. He has plenty of upside, plenty of years left to contribute (he's just 27), and plenty of uses for a team still left hammering away at the consistently elusive pass rush.
Why He's Not: Bryant's emergence into his athletic prime coupled with breakthrough games during the tail end of the Raiders' season haven't gone unnoticed. For this reason, many teams are expected to contend for Bryant's services in the offseason, pushing the cost up until it's prohibitive for New England. While quite possibly allowing Seymour to walk, the Raiders will push particularly hard to keep Bryant as a cost-effective piece to build the evolving defense around.
After the Patriots struck out in DT free agency this past offseason with the unsuccessful acquisition of Jonathan Fanene, they could be gun-shy when it comes to dropping big bucks on another player--especially one with a medical red flag. Bryant left action after the first half in one of his starts due to an irregular heartbeat, and while not a major concern, the Patriots may prefer to play it safe and draft and promote from within where they maintain total control over a player's vitals and cost as it pertains to the salary cap.
The Consensus: Bryant is an intriguing player that boasts a lot of legitimate measurables for any team hoping to bolster its defensive line. While the Patriots will undoubtedly exercise their due diligence and take a closer look at Bryant, I only envision serious pursuit if they consider themselves unable to pluck promising defensive line prospects where they are currently situated in the 2013 Draft. Bryant would be an amazing take for the right price, but will likely command too many dollars and years for a team that's hoping to lock down two big free agents of their own in Wes Welker and Sebastian Vollmer.