NFL personnel people typically don’t like to admit they put much significance in predraft workout numbers.
They’d rather confess to keying their neighbor’s Lexus rather than admit they drafted a guy because of his 40 time. The standard line they like to use is that it’s “just one part of the evaluation process.”
But it was a very big part of the Eagles’ decision to take Davion Taylor in the third round of the 2020 draft.
General manager Howie Roseman overdosed on analytics last year. He made it clear he wanted the Eagles to get faster, so he went out and focused on guys in the draft that ran really, really fast.
That included Taylor, a 6-0, 228-pound linebacker out of the University of Colorado, who ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the predraft scouting combine, and followed it up with a zoom-zoom-zoom 4.39 at Colorado’s Pro Day right before COVID-19 made the world stop.
“The guy is one of the fastest, most explosive players in the draft,” Roseman raved after the Eagles selected him with the 103rd overall pick. “He’s got some raw to his game, which is why he was there in the third round. But he’s also got some rocket ship to him.”
Taylor definitely was raw. He didn’t play high school football, and played just two years of Division I football.
Then, thanks to COVID-19, he had to rely on virtual learning to help him make the college-to-pro transition last spring. Not surprisingly, Taylor got on the field for just 32 defensive snaps last season.
“It made it very difficult for me,” said Taylor, referring to the COVID-19 restrictions. “We went to training camp full-go. We didn’t have OTAs. We just had those virtual meetings.
“I’m more of a hands-on guy. I have to make my mistakes on the field and then go back and correct them. COVID really set me back. I had to spend extra time [learning]. But it did help me learn to study film correctly.”
Taylor’s second year in the NFL has started off much better than his first. For starters, the Eagles were able to get in plenty of field work this spring, which made it a lot easier for Taylor to get his arms around defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s new scheme.
Also, with Alex Singleton on the reserve/COVID-19 list, it’s given Taylor the opportunity to get a lot of first-team reps early in training camp.
“[The reps] have helped me a lot,” Taylor said Thursday after the Eagles’ second summer practice at the NovaCare Complex. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to be a starter, because we’re going to be rotating people every day. But just going against the [offensive] 1s and getting that experience, it’s helped me build my confidence. If I do end up being a starter, I’ll be confident when the games come.”
Gannon said he’s been pleased by Taylor’s early camp performance.
“He’s had a couple of good days,” he said. “He looks a lot more comfortable to me right now just in what he’s doing. [Linebackers coach] Nick [Rallis] has done a really good job with him as far as making him understand the ‘why’ behind how we do things and, ‘Hey, this is his specific skill set and we’re going to let him roll.’ ”
Taylor’s specific skill set obviously is speed. But speed isn’t enough and he knows it. Tons of fast players wind up on the waiver wire every summer.
He worked hard in the offseason to improve as an overall football player. He spent extra time with the coaches. He watched film 3-4 times a week.
“I did extra things on the field to make sure that when I came to training camp, I’d be comfortable and not be overthinking everything,” Taylor said. “I wanted to be able to just go out there and be who I can be.
“OTAs helped me a lot this spring. One thing they told me I needed to focus on were my eyes. During OTAs, I made sure my eyes were in the right place. Even when I wasn’t here, I would be imagining keeping my eyes on the right things.
“Because even last year, when I did get into a game, my eyes messed me up a lot. Same thing in college. I know it’s one thing I have to focus on going into my second season.”
Primarily because of his limited football experience, Taylor isn’t a naturally instinctive player. His speed can make up for some of that, but not all of it.
He’s worked hard to improve his football IQ and has gotten better at watching tape.
“I’ve grown dramatically as far as watching tape,” he said. “I know how to watch film the right way and it’s helped me a lot.
“When I first got to college, I would watch it just to watch it. I didn’t really know what I was watching. Now, I know what to actually look at.
“When I’m game-planning, I know who I’m going to focus on and who I’m not really going to focus on. I can tell what runs are going to come out of different formations. I couldn’t do that last year.”
If he understands what he’s looking at, then his speed can become an asset. Like most teams, the Eagles use GPS devises to track the speed of their players during practice.
Taylor’s speed has been in the 20- to 21-mile per hour range. Not many linebackers in the league can run that fast.
“I’m going for 22 one of these days,” he said. “I feel the team picked me for my speed. So I feel I have to show it on the field. Hopefully, I’ll get faster and faster as the days go by.”
That’s great, but what the Eagles would really like to see him do is get better and better.