April 30, 2007, I wrote...
By this time next year Taylor could be pushing for a starting job and Seattle could have moved another overpaid wide receiver (cough* Burleson cough*) for another draft pick.
Burleson lingers, but Courtney Taylor is indeed on the shortlist for a starting spot. It’s funny then that this second year player, foisted with some weighty expectations, is still largely anonymous. Today I want to explain briefly why I was fond of the initial drafting of Taylor, why I thought he’d be in the starting mix this season and expand on what Seahawks fans can expect from him in 2008.
Rivals.com ranked Courtney Taylor a 3 star prospect at "athlete". Taylor earned that ambiguous designation after playing quarterback and corner in high school. He was also a standout in track and basketball. Scouts were certain Taylor wouldn’t survive at quarterback, and his future as a DB was nearly as murky, but tools alone forced a bidding war between Auburn and Alabama. On February 6, Taylor signed with the Tigers.
Taylor redshirted his freshman season. He would contribute in four seasons, but his sophomore and senior seasons stand out. In both, Taylor topped 700 yards receiving. 700 yards is not superficially spellbinding, but a meaningful adjustment should be applied. His sophomore season Taylor caught 24% of his team’s total receiving yards. Senior: 31%. That’s not Donnie Avery (40%) or Jordie Nelson (47%!) territory, but it’s fair comparable to fellow SEC standout Dwayne Bowe (30%). His 707 yards receiving his senior season came on an offense that attempted only 22 passes a game and only 282 for the season. Rodgeriqus Smith scratched 452 yards receiving, 232nd in NCAA 1-A. No other Tiger topped 300 yards.
Scouts liked Taylor’s mix of size (6106/204), athleticism, production and fast developing skills. Early projections considered Taylor a 3rd to 4th round talent. A couple things happened between then and Taylor’s eventual selection in the 6th.
First, underclassmen Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Robert Meachem, Anthony Gonzalez, Teddy Ginn Jr, Sydney Rice and Dwayne Jarrett declared eligible for the draft. All but Rice and Jarrett would be taken in the 1st round. Rice was selected 44th and Jarrett 45th overall in the 2nd. That influx of talent, including a prospect breathless scouts dubbed Randy Moss without baggage, Johnson, and two top twenty receivers in 2007 (by DPAR), Gonzalez and Bowe, helped turn 2007 into the most talent rich wide receiver class since 1996—at least. Middle class receivers like Taylor concurrently slipped.
Second, Taylor flipped tits at the Combine. He ran a 4.5/40, 44th among 50 invited receivers, confirming the fear of many that he was too slow to play in the NFL. In positional drills, Taylor again disappointed, missing (purportedly inaccurate) passes and doing little to assuage fears that he was but a college wide out.
Seattle selected Taylor in the 6th round. 13 picks later, Seattle added an all-potential compliment, Jordan Kent, to Taylor’s poise and polish.
Taylor is known as a top route runner. As I wade deeper into football analysis, I realize "route running" isn’t a tremendously descriptive phrase. Specifically, Taylor runs a precise line and excels in the quickness and precision of his cuts. Taylor is excellent at that almost irreducible skill of "faking guys out". He creates separation into and out of cuts.
Taylor adjusts his speed so that he runs through the pass. After the catch, he moves a bit like a running back: close to the ground, with a choppy, medium length stride that generates speed and power. He’s agile, takes good lines to space and breaks arm tackles. He’s not "dynamic" like Steve Smith, but is quick, tough and opportunistic—a consistent if containable run after the catch threat.
Taylor’s game is little Darrell Jackson, a little Nate Burleson. And like the former, he gets hurt. Taylor has yet to suffer the string of ever more severe knee and toe injuries that (perhaps) prematurely eroded Jackson’s tools, but has the profile and history of the easily nicked, slow recovering wide out that tantalizes with potential from the trainer’s table.
It’s the mark that mars an otherwise exciting talent, but it matters. In between the scrapes and sprains, Jackson was Seattle’s best wide out. Taylor can be as a good or better.