Much like Devin Taylor’s career at South Carolina, his status heading into this week’s NFL Draft can be interpreted several ways. You can see what you want in these numbers.
What Taylor, a former Gamecocks defensive end, would like to see is a second round selection during Friday’s second day of the draft. What is possible, Rotoworld.com NFL Draft writer Josh Norris says, is a third-round selection early Saturday. And what is more likely is a fifth-round pick.
That’s where Drafttek.com projects the 6-foot-7, 273-pound Taylor will be picked, No. 151 overall by the Dallas Cowboys, and that’s about where Norris thinks he should be taken.
“But I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s a little bit before that,” Norris said. “With him, it’s all about being stronger, using that length, using stronger hands to create some separation and push the pocket back. He’s a good athlete in a straight line, but he still plays so high that I worry about what if he gets latched on to.”
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ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper called Taylor “the enigma.”
“All that talent, kept waiting for him to become a first-round pick. He never did produce the kind of results you expected,” Kiper said. “Flashed, wasn’t consistent.”
Taylor finished his four-year South Carolina career with 45 starts, 161 tackles and 18.5 sacks. The concern for many NFL talent evaluators is that his statistical peak came as a sophomore when he had 53 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and eight pass breakups.
His sack numbers dropped each of the next two seasons, first to six as a junior and then to three as a senior.
Scouts asked why. The answer is defensive scheme, Taylor says, and he tried to make that point in January’s East-West Shrine game, a postseason all-star game in which he turned in a dominant performance, with multiple sacks and a forced fumble.
“I was just trying to show my talents to the coaches, show my different abilities and stuff that they maybe had questions and thoughts about,” Taylor said. “Our role at South Carolina for me was to play more contain, keep the quarterback in the pocket, that kind of thing versus being able to just play ball all day like in the NFL. I’d say we were more open to do kind of our own deal (at the East-West game). We were able to be free more than at South Carolina.”
Brad Lawing, Taylor’s defensive line coach throughout his career at South Carolina, made similar points throughout Taylor’s junior and senior seasons when he was asked about his player’s drop in production.
“Instead of being (bound) by different rules like our coach stressed throughout the season and (game) week, you are able to do everything on the run (in all-star games). I think it helped out a lot. I think a lot of people saw me as being a robot instead of just playing the game,” Taylor said.
Taylor continue to impress at February’s NFL Combine, where the former high school triple jumper was one of the combine’s top performers at his position in the vertical jump (35 inches), broad jump (128 inches), three-cone drill (6.89 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.3 seconds).
“I guess it showed that I was being overshadowed by such an athlete like (Jadeveon) Clowney, but I was able to show what I am able to do as well,” Taylor said. “I guess a lot of people didn’t see that during the season just because of all the hype that Clowney was getting.”
Taylor also showed off his still growing collection of arm bands to the national media at the combine. What started as a half dozen bands worn to honor friends or friends of friends has grown to a collection of 38 bands.
“They sort of have grown into people giving me different bands for different reasons, whether it be someone with cancer or a death in their family, just wanting to be an inspiration, I guess,” he said.
Taylor plans to make the bands into a necklace when he no longer has enough room on his wrists to hold them. (He probably won’t run out of arm anytime soon, though. His wingspan measured 86 inches at the combine.)
At South Carolina’s pro timing day in March, Taylor took a step back as his 40-yard dash, clocked at 4.72 at the combine, slipped to 4.88, and he ran outside the testing lane at one point. The performance added another question mark to a resume with a few, but Kiper expects Taylor’s raw talent to be too much to pass up for some professional club.
“If you get into the fourth, fifth round area, day three with a kid with the enormous physical gifts he has, it makes sense,” Kiper said.