All-22: Closing Speed, Explosion Define Davion Taylor’s Game
On paper, the Eagles filled a myriad of holes in the 2020 NFL Draft – including the perpetual void on the second level of the defense.
As defenses continue to prioritize speed and athleticism in efforts to keep pace with the NFL’s saturation of prolific offenses, defenders with versatile skill sets have become in high demand. One of the more intriguing selections during the three-day marathon, Colorado linebacker Davion Taylor, appears to fit the bill.
Taylor’s untraditional path to prominence began in high school, where he participated in football practice throughout the week but was forbidden to take part in Friday night and Saturday evening games, as his family observed the Seventh-day Aventist Sabbath. He continued his playing career at the junior college level, attending Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Miss. At Coahoma, Taylor evolved into the seventh-ranked junior college prospect in the country before ultimately making the jump to the Pac-12 in 2018.
Taylor made an immediate impact on the field for the Colorado Buffaloes, collecting 57 tackles (10 for loss), a sack, two passes defended, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown in his first season. He closed out his collegiate career with a strong 2019 campaign, racking up 72 tackles (8 for loss), a sack, four passes defended, and a fumble recovery, parlaying his standout performance into an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Taylor further impressed evaluators at the NFL Scouting Combine, recording a blistering 4.49 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical, 127-inch broad jump, 6.96 3-cone, and 21 reps on the bench press.
Going through some of Taylor’s 2019 tape over the past few days confirmed what most already knew: While possessing tantalizing athleticism, Taylor has a considerable amount of work ahead before he can be relied upon as a fixture on defense.
On this play, Taylor, at the bottom of the screen in the slot, fights through the block of Nebraska tight end Austin Collins (6’8″, 250). Though not exactly textbook blocking from Collins on this play, Taylor demonstrates efficient hand usage in order to disengage and make the stop on the running back.
The next clip shows Taylor working through a better blocking attempt, this time from a Cornhuskers’ wide receiver.
Taylor (slot) showcases impressive strength at the point of attack, driving the receiver backwards and throwing him off balance enough before separating in time to make a lunging tackle.
When Taylor has a bead on a target, his closing speed is remarkable.
On the next play, Taylor shifts gears to close in on the running back in the flat, effectively breaking up the pass. Just watch his closing speed.
Though this play ultimately resulted in an incompletion, it’s fair to note that Taylor should have keyed on the running back sooner, as he was the only threat in his zone.
One of the more integral aspects of the position that Taylor must improve upon at the next level is his coverage acumen.
On this play, Taylor shows pressure up the middle, only to bail at the last second and drop in coverage. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert sees Taylor’s back turned toward the quarterback and tosses a touchdown pass over a trailing Taylor.
It’s a really good read by Herbert. Taylor had the speed to get into the right spot but lacked the awareness to turn around and attempt to break up the pass, which was thrown slightly behind the receiver.
Also noticed on tape, Taylor at times struggles to find the ball. Teams will actively strive to run or throw at Taylor at the next level, so it’s imperative he improves his play strength and that he refines his technique and awareness.
Taylor’s inexperience flashed almost as much as his speed, range, and tenacity, but if his football intelligence, discipline, and play strength catch up to his innate physical traits the Eagles will have their own version of the new-age NFL defender.
-Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network.