It's a fine line to walk, being a draft analyst in January. Throughout the course of the four months of winter that mark the end of the regular season and the beginning of the NFL Draft, you'll hear about 100 guys get the phrase "first round grade" attached to their name. My math skills suggest that is impossible. With only 32 slots in the first round, the churning tides of hype will witness many casualties. I'm here to tell you that Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor won't be one of them.
The Gators' right tackle is a stunning blend of size, athletic ability and functional power. Before the season, our Jon Ledyard was assigned Taylor for assessment and he marked several concerns. Among them, range in pass sets and power at the point of attack.
Taylor has come a long ways in his junior season. And with the current state of affairs on NFL offensive lines across the league, it's almost a shoo-in that we'll see a player of Taylor's quality get the call in the first round.
The only question left: how high can he go?
Taylor is a listed 6-foot-5, 328 pounds. And with movement skills like this, it's hard to envision him lasting beyond the 23rd draft slot for the Houston Texans.
As I watched the film of Taylor in the press box before Saturday's Senior Bowl, he made a comment that that really stuck with me. You see offensive tackles asked to execute this play dozens of times, but how often do they really get there?
Taylor gets there. Not only does he get there, he lays out a filling defender and creates a ton of real estate for a nice gain. That kind of open field mobility is pretty rare, particularly at 328 pounds.
Now, athleticism is fine and dandy...but can the guy play Offensive Tackle? Here's a good illustration of Taylor's athleticism in a more traditional setting:
This is a textbook double-team into a climb to the second level. Taylor's transition off the chip and onto the linebacker is sudden and well balanced, allowing him to square up his fit against the linebacker with ease. As I watched Taylor's game against South Carolina (2018), it became pretty apparent that this was a top shelf quality for him.
Here's another example:
I love the fact that Taylor stays attached to his man despite the efforts to scrape. Showing open field mobility and stickiness in the hands will allow big plays to be hit directly off Taylor's hip. Backs will know they can trust him to secure the block and be willing to cut off his frame.
Taylor's mobility pairs quite well with powerful hands. There's not always a clean fit with his punch but when he's able to set himself on someone's frame, look out.
So you've got prototypical size, special movement skills, powerful hands. What's the catch? There are a few, but nothing that will scare NFL franchises away from targeting Taylor early.
Areas Of Improvement
I still want to see more focus added on hand placement. Taylor carries his hands pretty low and as a result he can give up his chest too easily at first contact. Fortunately, he has the functional strength to withstand body blows, but to reach his ceiling he can't be eating stun punches with his chest.
Taylor also would be well served to continue adding focus on his hips and pads. There are times on film when Taylor bows his back to anchor himself, but he's lost his leverage against the opposition: he's too high.
It isn't something that is a physical restriction, either. You see plenty of reps of Taylor in short sets in pass protection here his hips are dropped, his base is wide, his knees are bent. It's muscle memory. If Taylor gets more comfortable dropping his hips to anchor, he's going to become exponentially stronger vs. power rushes.
But even with his areas of improvement, Jawaan Taylor was vastly improved this season. And with the arrow pointing upwards and the physical skills to ascend even higher? There's no way in hell the Jawaan Taylor hype is going to die out.