Who is Jordan Taylor and why should you keep tabs on him?
Seeing what others don’t when scouting a player often means you’re either equipped with pixie dust or the gunpowder. Get it right and it’s magic, get it wrong and it can blow up in your face. That’s the dramatic, bottom-line story you’ll see in a movie like Draft Day and the general media about player evaluation. Whether you’re a general manager, director of scouting, or a media analyst, it’s a truth about the job of evaluating talent.
Rice wide receiver Jordan Taylor is a player who caught my eye this month. I haven’t seen enough of Taylor to make a firm assessment of his game, but I imagine because of his school and his lack of elite athleticism, Taylor might be, at best, a late-round prospect.
Yet, I’ve seen enough from Taylor that I’m intrigued with his potential. The reasons are his feel for the game and his knack for winning plays in difficult situations. If his athleticism is good enough, or there’s an opportunity for Taylor to realistically develop into to an athlete capable of competing on the NFL’s state, there might be magic.
Here are four plays from Taylor that reveal why I want to see more.
Special Hand-Eye Coordination, Concentration
Taylor is the inside man in a weak-side trips-left, 11 personnel shotgun set. The Texas A&M safety begins the play two yards inside Taylor and facing the Rice backfield. However, A&M’s defense does a lot of last-second shifts with its secondary during this game.
The defensive back drops seven yards deep and the middle linebacker also drops seven yards along the hash. Without asking Taylor or the coaching staff we don’t know for sure if this last-second change from the defense facilitated a change with the receiver’s route choice, but there’s a decent chance the quarterback and receiver were in sync with a potential adjustment.
My guess is that the depth of the linebacker and the inside position of the safety were indicators for Taylor’s route after the snap. However, the only things we do know for sure that is Taylor runs a sail route to the left sideline, his quarterback recognizes this adjustment, and delivers the ball immediately. The result is a helluva catch from Taylor.
If this play doesn’t catch your eye, you need to take a break from football. Taylor makes a spinning, leaping catch under the defensive back, taking contact to his chest in mid-air. The fact Taylor’s back is parallel to the ground and about three feet off the turf is nothing to sneeze at; the body isn’t designed to break falls as easily with the bones and muscles surrounding one’s vital organs.
Despite this rough landing point, Taylor maintains possession of the ball under his right arm, bounces up immediately, and has the ball at the 42 for the first down. For Taylor to display this kind of extension for the ball from this awkward and vulnerable mid-air position is an excellent display of coordination and toughness.
Here’s a target where Taylor’s release technique and burst could be better, but the skill to track the ball and make the play in tight quarters is the kind of work that’s far more difficult to teach an NFL receiver. The play is a 1st and 10 with 2:42 in the half from a 2×1 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun set with the ball at the right hash of the 50. Taylor is single right inside the numbers and the opposing cornerback is two yards off the line of scrimmage.
A&M’s defense has a single safety nine yards deep at the right hash. Taylor begins this route with a three-step release followed by using his inside arm to swat the inside arm of the corner. As you’ll see below, Taylor does not clear the defender with this technique and one of the reasons is the lack of depth with those three steps. I’ve become more aware over the years that young receivers often don’t attack the frame of the defender with as much depth early in a route as they should and it’s one of the reasons they don’t earn effective releases against corners with equal or greater athleticism and technique.
Despite not clearing the corner with as much ease as Taylor should, he manages a fine catch with a target arriving over his head — one of the most difficult targets to catch on a dead run in tight coverage. What adds to the goodness of this reception is Taylor’s late hands; this tight coverage demands Taylor to disguise his play for the ball until the last moment and he succeeds with every ounce of his reach to catch the ball and keep one foot in-bounds.
Moreover, Taylor makes the catch around the hand of the defensive back. Two plays in, and Taylor displays concentration, coordination, and flexibility in great supply. What he didn’t do well on this play is teachable.
Awareness and Attacking Mentality
I don’t normally make much of fluke plays, but when a prospect displays a knack for achieving the difficult I will take notice. This touchdown on third and goal with 0:18 in the half is not an intended target for Taylor, but he makes the most of the situation.
Rice begins the play from a weak-side, 11 personnel trips shotgun set. The ball is at the right hash of the A&M five and Taylor is the inside trips man at the left hash aligned two yards from the line of scrimmage. He uses a three-step release and curls inside while the quarterback targets the middle receiver from the trips side. The ball is tipped sky-high.
Taylor sees the play unfold, works outside, and wins the rebound over the defensive back at the three. The receiver finishes the play by extending his body over the goal line. There are no special technical skills on display here, but the ability to act fast and aggressive in this situation is the type of quick thinking that quality pro football players display weekly. It’s a layer of football smarts, and for a player who is unlikely a premium pick (or drafted at all), a quick mental processor can earn a UDFA a roster spot.
It’s also good for a football to have an aggressive mentality because indecision often puts players in more awkward positions that heighten the risk of injury. For those of you into data analysis, no I can’t prove this point, but from an anecdotal-observational perspective, I’m claiming this is truth until proven false. This finish by Taylor as a ballcarrier is a good example.
Taylor catches a swing pass from an 11 personnel weak-side trips shotgun set as the inside slot man near the left hash. He catches the ball over his inside shoulder, four yards behind the line of scrimmage, and his two teammates make cut blocks that put two defenders on the ground.
One of those defenders recovers just enough to chop at Taylor’s legs. I like that Taylor leaps inside the chop. While airborne he stiff-arms the defender and lands at the first down marker.
The mentality and effort help Taylor avoid a hit to his legs that could have been damaging at this angle and it allows Taylor to reach his destination. The Owls receiver may not have super speed, but his size, strength, and skill to get airborne in an aware-aggressive-coordinated manner might just compensate enough that he’s worth monitoring over the next 12 months.
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