There is little doubt about the depth of the offensive line for the Cleveland Browns. Because of that depth, high-ceiling second-year tackle Alex Taylor faces an uphill climb. Does he have a shot to make the final 53-man roster this season?
A year ago, Taylor wound up on the Injured Reserve after he was initially waived in September from the roster. As he was stashed on the IR roster, Taylor had a chance to work on his game as he is still new to the game of football.
A converted basketball player, Taylor transferred from Appalachian State to South Carolina State, and made the change to football as well. At the combine in 2020, Taylor came in at over 6-feet-8 and 308 pounds. His arms are a big drawing point to his build, as he possesses over 36 inch vines.
Now in his second season with the Browns, can Taylor do enough to make the final roster in Cleveland?
Taking a close look at Taylor's reps given against the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are obvious improvements from his college tape out of South Carolina State and from the Reese's Senior Bowl. However, there are still evident weaknesses to his game.
A good place to start is with the biggest weakness of Taylor coming into the league: his size. Looking at his build, Taylor still looks thin as he lined up against the Jaguars. This is wildly apparent with his lower body. The Browns even list his play-weight lower than he weighed in during the combine.
His upper body remains a bit thin as well. Again, Taylor has incredibly long arms, however, he struggles to gain leverage with them due to his lack of upper body strength.
In this clip above, Taylor does a good job to dig in and at least hold the point of attack. However, in an ideal world Taylor must be able to press the defensive lineman out from his frame, lock out his arms, and drive with leverage.
When a player cannot get locked out and a defensive player gets into the frame, it causes an offensive lineman's pad level to get driven up. This is the case with Taylor in this rep. There may be a reason to believe Taylor will never be an offensive lineman who will be known for moving bodies off of the line of scrimmage.
His lack of upper body strength was also apparent in passing situations as well.
The initial punch of an offensive lineman tells a chunk of the story of a player's play strength. In the rep above, Taylor's initial strike does not deter the defensive end from his track as he gets after Kyle Lauletta.
In fact, it does not do much of anything in terms of setting the rest of Taylor's set up for success. Instead number 94 is able to win along the outside track and get home with minimal resistance. This transitions to the next element of Taylor's game to take a look at: his pass set.
Seeing Taylor live at the Senior Bowl, there was very little positive going his way that week. Playing at a smaller school, plus his build still as a converted basketball player, Taylor was overmatched both in strength and technique.
However, there were actually positives to Taylor's technique below the waist when working in his pass set. In this same rep, while his upper body lacks the pop needed to set him up for success, Taylor does show great explosiveness off the snap to reach 94 in wide alignment.
Perhaps there is room to nitpick his stride length in his set, but all-in-all Taylor keeps a wide base, does not cross his feet, and shows an explosive lower-half. His hips do show some room for concern as well, however.
He did not test well in his agility drills at the combine, and his lack of hip flexibility pops up in this same clip. As 94 shows good bend around the edge on this sack, Taylor remains upright and stiff, unable to provide resistance to that bend. Offensive tackles with more hip flexibility would be able to match this level of bend to an extent and remain square to the edge defender.
The issues continue to show up with his hips and upper body, however, in his set. For a player with 36 inch arms, Taylor must be more patient when dealing with pressure off the edge, use his length, and keep his upper body square with his lower body.
Above, Taylor is quick to reach the edge defender, which is somewhat his responsibility in a jump set (meeting defensive linemen as close to the line of scrimmage and engage as quickly as possible). However, When doing so, Taylor's upper body falls way out overtop of his base.
This causes Taylor to have to play catchup with the edge rusher rather than staying square with him in his pass set. So recapping Taylor's pass blocking performance against Jacksonville: there is a lot to like about his lower body and his refinement in his set, but his upper body shows plenty of room for improvement.
Given his size, however, Taylor did an efficient job at anchoring bull rush against the Jaguars. He is not going to be a world-beater in terms of stopping pass rushers in their tracks, but Taylor showed the ability to anchor just a yard or so into the backfield instead of being driven back into his quarterback.
In the above clip, Taylor does a much better job of keeping his upper and lower body aligned on his jump set. He gets his hands on the defensive lineman in a timely manner, and is even able to replace the hands of the opponent. Again, while it was not the prettiest anchor, Taylor was able to eventually dig his heels in and anchor the threat of bull rush from 94.
Looking at the other aspect of an offense, the run game, Taylor put together some great reps for the Browns in this regard. Taylor is a mobile athlete, so that already feeds into being a system fit in Cleveland's outside zone system. This showed up against the Jaguars.
In the above rep, there is much to like about Taylor's mobility to work parallel down the line of scrimmage. Added into the play as well was Taylor's use of his arm length and placement directly into the chest of the defender.
Ultimately, Taylor was able to keep his back shoulder aligned with the front shoulder of the defender as he worked down the line of scrimmage. This allowed for Taylor to square up his hips and seal the backside of the play. This is not the only time Taylor's mobility was on display.
The final rep to show, now, is perhaps Taylor's most impressive of the night. Again working laterally, Taylor puts on display a high-level scoop block.
A scoop block is when an offensive lineman is able to reach a defensive lineman lined up overtop of the guard. If case of a guard scoop block, it would be a guard reaching a lineman lined up over the center. The purpose of a scoop block is to allow the man who is being covered by the defensive lineman to reach the second level.
In this last rep, Taylor is able to get down the line of scrimmage and beat 97 to the spot. Taylor reaches 97, scoops him, and allows for Drew Forbes to reach the linebacker at the second level (nevermind the fact that Forbes fails to initiate contact).
To review overall, Taylor showed glimpses of promise with his mobility and overall refinement below the waist. His upper body mechanics still show much to be desired as he has two more preseason games to improve upon his game against Jacksonville.
There are still reasons to have concern about the functional play-strength of both his upper and lower body as he continues to make the transformation from a basketball player to a football player.
Bottom line: does Taylor have a pathway to make the final 53-man roster? While nothing is ever spoken in certainties, it is still hard to find an active roster spot for the raw, but athletic Taylor.
There can be a case made financially to move on from Chris Hubbard, opening up the swing tackle job. However, given his familiarity with the system, how little he actually costs, and how valuable he was all over the line a year ago, Hubbard is not going anywhere this season.
Michael Dunn has also shown great promise from a year ago, and played lights out against Jacksonville. Given Bill Callahan's love for him, Dunn also seems like a safe bet to make the roster.
This appears true for rookie and fourth round pick James Hudson as well. While Hudson had a less-than-stellar debut against Jacksonville, the long game has always been the mindset with the defensive tackle convert. Viewed as the most likely candidate to take over the swing tackle job for Hubbard after this year, Hudson is pretty safe.
A year ago, the Browns rostered nine total offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster. We have listed three depth pieces in Hubbard, Hudson, and Dunn, so barring an injury to one of those three or one of the five starters, that leaves just one roster spot left.
While the chances are slim for Taylor to make this roster, given both Hubbard and Hudson are viewed as tackles, his chances are also not zero. In fact, Hubbard's ability to also play guard may give the Browns the leeway to roster a fifth tackle on their final 53 should they love the potential of Taylor enough.
Battling for that last roster spot, in all reality, will be Drew Forbes fresh off of an opt-out, second-year center Nick Harris, and Taylor. Given Harris' struggles with functional play-strength as well, and with Dunn getting some practice reps at center, the former fifth rounder could be out of a spot.
Nobody truly knows how this front office, Bill Callahan, or the rest of the coaching staff feels about Forbes either. Being away from the building for the first year of this regime change may put Forbes behind the eight ball as well.
While Forbes tested well as an athlete at the combine, his tape against Jacksonville looked a little uncomfortable and lumbering. Should the Browns not like the type of athlete or build of Forbes, he could very easily find himself off of the final roster.
Taylor is highly athletic, has the arm length that cannot simply be grown on trees, and has shown immense improvements already. This roster decision may come down to who the Browns think has the best chance and the worst chance of clearing waivers.
Good teams have to cut promising players. That is the game the Browns now have to play. Do they like Taylor enough to prevent him from hitting the waiver wire? Is this enough for them to roster him over the likes of Harris or Forbes? Taylor's outlook is inauspicious, but his chances of making the final cut are not completely dead in the water.