Tuls' Takes: Darrell Taylor Has Superstar Upside As Pass Rusher

Photo: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NFL Draft is set to feature one of the deepest defensive line classes the league has seen in the last decade. 

Specifically, the amount of talented pass rushers in this year’s crop immediately stands out. It is headlined by Ohio State’s Chase Young, but even after him, there are a ton of high-upside edge defenders that could also be drafted in the top 50.

One of those players is Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior who racked up 17 sacks over the last two seasons. Of all the pass rushers in this draft outside of Young, Taylor has the most tantalizing traits and highest ceiling.

Taylor reportedly ran a 4.5-second 40 in the spring before this season, and you can see that athleticism translated on his game tape. This play against Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson, who will be a top offensive tackle prospect in the draft, shows you exactly how his speed can be deadly off the edge. He has a lightning-quick first step and plays with elite flexibility and bend in his lower body. Those athletic traits translated on Taylor’s tape are found in just about every stud pass rusher in the NFL.

Taylor is crazy explosive and a speed demon off the edge — that is evident. But what a lot of people don’t realize is how powerful he is at the point of attack. Taylor uses his 4.5 speed and effortlessly converts it into power, utilizing his length and strong upper body. As you can see here on the second play of this clip, he uses a long-arm arm against BYU’s right tackle and gets into his chest, pushing the pocket and finishing the play. With Taylor’s speed, power and length off the edge, you would be hard pressed to find many pass rushers better at their peak than him.

Another key aspect of Taylor’s game that makes him one of this draft’s most intriguing pass rushers is his vast toolbox of counter moves. On his tape, you see moves stacked on top of moves consistently. Whether it’s a chop-dip-rip, euro cross-chop, swim, spin or inside counter like on this play against South Carolina, Taylor’s unpredictability as a rusher is scary. When you have an edge defender with Taylor’s kind of speed, explosiveness and quickness — combined with this variety of counter moves — coaches and scouts are going to absolutely fall in love.

From purely a talent standpoint, Taylor is the most gifted pass rusher in this 2020 class, other than Young. However, there are a couple of things that may hold him back from becoming a first-round selection in April.

For starters, a lot of his sack numbers the last two seasons were registered in just a few games, and there were long stretches throughout both his junior and senior campaigns where he was invisible on the field. He is simply too talented to be shut out in games, and I think NFL evaluators will see his lack of game-to-game consistency as a major question mark.

Also, as a run defender, he is reckless in his gap discipline, often rushing upfield, losing his contain and taking himself out of the play. Taylor doesn’t get washed against the run, but I do wonder if coaches and scouts will have concerns about his early-down production at the next level.

Lastly, Taylor will have to answer questions about his history off the field. He was suspended indefinitely as a sophomore in 2017 after getting in a fight with his teammate at practice, among other reasons.

If you’re a pass rusher entering the NFL draft, you better have one of two things on your resume as a prospect — noticeable physical traits like speed, power and length, or good college production. Taylor is one of the few EDGE prospects in this draft class that possesses both. His combination of explosion, bend and quickness off the edge is evident, and if he can put it together consistently at the next level, I think he can become a Pro Bowl pass rusher and double-digit sack artist at the next level, similar to a player like Robert Quinn. Invited to the 2020 Senior Bowl, he'll have an opportunity to have a dominant week in the one-on-one period and cement his status as a top-tier pass rusher in this class.