The Davion Taylor selection may not have been exactly a swing for the fences, but the Eagles took a player with potential upside over previous production. I don’t know if that was the right play after drafting the Jalen brothers – Reagor and Hurts – in the first two rounds, but Taylor’s athleticism does make him an intriguing linebacker prospect.
He ran 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, which wasn’t much slower than the time Reagor (4.47) ran. He’s been clocked under 4.4, as well. The speed didn’t always show up on film, but Taylor has only played in football games for four years. A Seventh-day Adventist, he observed their Sabbath, which kept him indoors on weekends. His mother allowed him to make his own choice at the age of 18, and Taylor played first at Coahoma Community College before transferring to Colorado for his last two years.
The 6-foot, 228-pound Taylor is likely a project. A lot of write-ups on the 21-year-old suggest that he still has a lot to learn in terms of technique. The Eagles didn’t exactly have a lot of depth at linebacker before Taylor was drafted. Nate Gerry and T.J. Edwards are probably top two at the position, although I could see Howie Roseman adding a few veteran free agents over the next several months.
Taylor’s straight-ahead speed will probably get him on the field on special teams, but it could be a while before he’s playing in Jim Schwartz’s defense. That speed, though, could make him three-down material. There aren’t many linebackers that can cover the top tight ends in the NFL, but Taylor could be versatile enough to defend all stripes. The former track athlete should have the explosiveness and range to pursue ball carriers from hash to sideline.
But this was still a bit of a risk, especially considering the other gambles the Eagles took over the draft. They must really love him.
I gave a thumbs down to the Eagles’ first-round pick, wide receiver Jalen Reagor, not so much because I don’t think he can play, but because they passed on a guy who is better – Justin Jefferson.
With regard to their third-round selection, Taylor, I’m just not sure he can play at all. As with Reagor, analytics seem to have driven the pick. The kid is fast. There’s no disputing that. Ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine and a 4.39 at Colorado’s Pro Day.
That’s the good news. The bad news is he played in 24 games for Colorado over two years and didn’t force a single turnover. All of that speed and he wasn’t able to knock a single ball loose from a ball carrier or step in front of a defender and intercept a pass.
Taylor is very raw. He played in one high school football game. Played two years at a Mississippi junior college before landing at Colorado. He’s not an instinctive player, which negates his speed advantage because he has to think before reacting.
I sort of see what the Eagles think they see in him: a really fast, versatile safety/linebacker who can cover slots and tight ends and running backs. But he’s not going to get on the field for Jim Schwartz any time soon, particularly this year with the pandemic likely wiping out any spring work and possibly shortening training camp. His best hope of making any kind of contribution as a rookie will be on special teams.
If the Eagles wanted a linebacker at 103, Appalachian State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither, who went to the Bengals with the first pick in the fourth round (107) would have been a much better choice. Clemson’s massive guard, John Simpson, who went to the Raiders at 109, also would’ve been somebody I would’ve considered.
But not Taylor.
Somebody I talked to compared Taylor to Ernie “shark in the water” Sims, in that he flings himself around a lot with little instinct or recognition. Sims, a disappointment after the Eagles traded for him in 2010, was a first-round pick, ninth overall, of the Lions in 2006, which is one reason Matt Millen’s general managing career ended after the 2008 season.
The Eagles are banking on (hoping?) that Taylor has a big upside, given that he is extremely athletic and is pretty inexperienced. Suddenly, speed and athleticism are super important again, after three years of marching under the banner of “production” when Joe Douglas was the player personnel vice president. I’m not sure either value is absolute. I don’t think Taylor would have been a Douglas favorite.
All that said, I really liked the part in Taylor’s session with reporters after he was picked, when he talked about inexperience and improvement. “I’ll probably get on [coaches’] nerves because I will ask for extra meetings, I will ask for extra work, because I want to become a better player and I want to be on the field,” Taylor said.
So, that and the athleticism will keep me from really ripping the pick, but I have to believe there might have been a better choice in the third round.
Taylor is another case of the Eagles making a massive shift in priorities with Joe Douglas in New York. Nothing about Taylor’s production jumps off the page. In two seasons, he had 129 total tackles and no forced turnovers. What makes Taylor intriguing is his athleticism. He ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and was above the 85th percentile in the broad jump, 10-yard splits, and the three-cone. Outside of those physical traits, Taylor’s scouting report leaves much to be desired.
The Eagles’ linebacker corps, even for a team that doesn’t value linebackers very highly, is precariously thin right now. Taylor is considered extremely raw — he played just one game in high school — which might result in him needing a year or two of coaching before being ready to take on a significant role.
Gerry, who played safety at Nebraska, was the last “linebacker” the Eagles drafted. After joining the team in 2017, it took him three years to see significant playing time on defense. Maybe Eagles linebacker coach Ken Flajole can work his magic on Taylor and turn him into a modern-day, off-ball linebacker capable of covering tight ends and running backs, but it likely won’t be this year.