Can Eagles Turn Davion Taylor Into a Three-Down LB?
When it comes to Davion Taylor, the Eagles essentially handed a nice piece of clay to Ken Flajole and told the veteran linebackers coach to mold it into a three-down linebacker.
The talent is obviously there with the athletic Taylor, a greyhound at 6-foot and 230 pounds who is faster than a number of the defensive backs on the roster.
The goal in the modern NFL is the often-talked-about but rarely uncovered hybrid, a player with the sturdiness to hold up in run support while also running with the Christian McCaffreys and George Kittles of the world in pass coverage.
Most personnel executives viewed Taylor as a raw prospect, something the former Colorado star even acknowledged himself, a nod to his late start in the game due to his religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. Taylor played just one high school game and had to walk on at a junior college in Mississippi before getting his opportunity at Colorado.
"I can’t make any excuses," said Taylor during a videoconference earlier in the week. "I have to go out there and be a pro about it. I know I have a little background in football, but having that little background I know I have to spend extra time in the playbook, probably more than anybody else, spend extra time in the coach’s office, just do these extra things to make sure I’m ready because I can’t use that excuse as a handicap that I’m very raw."
With his athletic traits, it's not hard to imagine Taylor being a first- or second-round pick if he had been a more finished product.
Ultimately, he was still selected No. 103 overall in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft at a position of need for the Eagles.
With Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill gone from the 2019 team, the only somewhat proven option returning is Nate Gerry, with T.J. Edwards expected to step up in Year 2 and then a number of potential contributors like Duke Riley, Jatavis Brown and Taylor trying to mix in.
Of the group, Taylor and perhaps Riley, a one-time third-round pick in Atlanta, are easily the most physically gifted.
“As far as household names, maybe there’s not a lot of that at that position, but we’ve had guys who have put a lot of time on the grass and in the meeting rooms,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said when discussing the position in a Friday Zoom call.
“It’s time for us to see those guys play, whether it’s T.J. Edwards … a draft pick. Or even a guy like Duke Riley, who we traded for last year.”
Schwartz then noted the speed Brown, Taylor, and fellow rookie Shaun Bradley bring to the table.
“One of the things I’m excited about at the linebacker position is adding a guy like Jatavis (Brown), adding Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley,” said Schwartz. “We have some real speed at that position. All of our guys have different skill sets, but we made a real strong point to add speed. I think we’re probably a faster group than we’ve been in any of the four years previous.”
If anyone needed a real offseason, however, it was probably Taylor and even he admitted that diving into the Schwartz playbook virtually was a tall task. Even without on-field instruction, however, Taylor explained a lot was accomplished in the offseason.
"I learned all the plays," he said. "The way (Flajole) was teaching, he had a patience with us because he knew we weren’t able to be in the facility or on the field so he had patience to make sure every day was taken little by little and making sure we were getting every little detail in the playbook so we’ll be ready when we come out here.
"Now that we are back hands-on, it’s even better but he’s making sure we’re doing the right things."
Taylor played what Colorado called the STAR LB position in college which was a bigger body in the slot often covering tight ends or running backs out of the backfield. Taylor getting the experience in coverage can only help as Flajole attempts to turn him into a three-down linebacker.
One of the best coverage LBs in the NFL has been Atlanta's Deion Jones, another undersized player at the position that Taylor has kept an eye on.
“One person I try to compare myself to is Deion Jones of the Atlanta Falcons because he’s a speed linebacker and great in coverage so I watch film on him,” Taylor said. “I try to measure my games after him.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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