With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who finished his collegiate career at Penn State and Baylor with 107 tackles (55 solo), five sacks and one interception.
Pros: Incredibly agile for his size (6-foot-4, 337 pounds), Taylor's faster in a five-yard radius than anyone this big should be. Very quick off the snap, and it doesn't take him long to get his weight redistributed if he needs to get off a pass rush and back off to cover or help stop a running play. Locks on well and can fool blockers with a quick spin move. Will split double-teams with speed more than power. Taylor isn't limited to zero- and one-tech looks, he'll occasionally shade outside the guard and become a real problem as a huge three-tech - he has the skill set to do so.
Taylor has surprising sideline-to-sideline speed, and he doesn't get gassed after a 20-yard run. He is excellent at sliding off single blocks and accelerating to the ballcarrier. Flashes decent pass-rush for his size and role; as a three-tech tackle, he can get pretty low and get around a blocker to harass the quarterback. Would seem to transfer well to a role right over center if need be because he engages double-teams and doesn't lose them - this would be a crucial attribute for a player his size. Good with his hands; has the upper-body strength to push a guard out of the way with a quick slap. Really turned it on at the Senior Bowl and should impress in the agility drills at the scouting combine.
Cons: For a one-gap tackle, Taylor is disturbingly easy to push sideways and out of the play - if he doesn't get the first burst, he doesn't always win the power battle. Hasn't run a lot of loops and twists and doesn't seem particularly effective when doing so; the Baylor defense seemed more straight-ahead with its defensive linemen, so this may be a matter of technique over time. Transferred to Baylor after two years at Penn State; was suspended and then kicked off the Nittany Lions' roster after his alleged role in a fight at a student union function and sat out the 2008 season as a result. Occasional lapses in play; he'll need to find more consistency at the next level.
Conclusion: It's difficult for me to grade Taylor as a nose-over-center tackle in the mold of Casey Hampton(notes), Kris Jenkins(notes) or Vince Wilfork(notes); those players are less likely to get pushed aside by guards. And for all his size, Taylor isn't a squatty guy - he's a bit more lean and muscular in a way that makes me wonder if a 3-4 team might not want him to put on 10 pounds or so.
Right now, he's an interesting hybrid player who would most easily succeed in a system where he's all over the line - he could have a Justin Smith(notes)-style impact if he's on a 3-4/4-3 line where he's all over the line. Looking at the height/weight and immediately assuming that he's an instant nose tackle who just has surprising speed would be a rather large mistake. If he answers any character concerns and finds the right spot, Taylor could be a dominant defender for years to come.