Sometimes you can find gold in the most obscure places. I’m talking about NFL talent, not the real stuff. If I knew where actual gold was I would be there now. NFL teams will look far and wide to discover the next great unknown player. A few years back the Minnesota Vikings spent a 6th round pick on a European phenom from Germany named Moritz Bohringer. As a 6’ 4” 229 lbs wide receiver prospect, he ran a 4.40/40 playing in a European league.
Bohringer was playing against sub-Division III football talent. Although he was a great athlete, his skill set didn’t translate to the NFL. The Vikings took a flier, and they received a lot of undue grief because of it. They were made to look like fools only because the pick didn’t work out. Had it gone better there would have been a multitude of teams trying to find people who could scout in Europe.
Minnesota did what you are supposed to do with a late round pick, swing for the fences. The number of 6th round draft picks who eventually become Pro-Bowl players are in the 4 to 5% range. Why not swing for the fences?
There are only so many Snacks Harrison’s from William-Penn or Terron Armstead’s of the New Orleans Saints who attended Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Occasionally you can find a quality player who was behind another great player in college. Tom Brady waited behind Brian Griese at Michigan before he got his shot.
In the quest for NFL talent your talent assessment of backup prospects may be biased because they didn’t start as collegians. Players develop at different rates. They also mature at vastly different rates.
Maybe the most difficult evaluation comes from a player who has a great skill set but is stuck behind a prolific player. Then after that player leaves for the NFL he gets an injury that doesn’t allow him to show his true abilities.
Players who have suffered injuries are in many cases taken off Draft boards. I’m talking about quality players who could be difference-makers in the NFL if given the chance.
The player I’m going to focus on today is a quality big running back who was behind a prolific player in college. Then once he received his chance to play, an injury derailed his ascent to stardom in college football.
The player we are going to preview today is Patrick Taylor Jr. a running back at the University of Memphis. If you recall I highlighted another running back from the University of Memphis last year before the Draft, Darrell Henderson, who was selected in the 3rd round by the Los Angeles Rams.
The difference between Henderson and Taylor is night and day. Henderson was a 5’ 8” 207 speedster who frequently ran by opponents. He is currently waiting in the wings with the Rams for a bigger role.
Patrick Taylor Jr. is the antithesis of Henderson. Taylor is 6’ 3” and weighs around 230 lbs. He is a punishing runner with good fundamentals and very good speed. That is not to say Taylor is a run you over kind of back. He is in the mode of a Derrick Henry in that he can break tackles but also can avoid them. He also has the speed to run away from defenders once he gets in the open field.
Taylor returned to Memphis poised to become the featured back in a prolific run first offense. Memphis was the 7th highest scoring team (42.9 points a game) in 2018 while rushing for an average of 280 yards and 523 total yards per game.
In the first game of the years against Ole Miss Taylor rushed 27 times for 128 yards and a TD and caught 4 passes for 25 yards in a 15-10 Memphis win. The bad news was he suffered a foot injury that would keep him out of the lineup for 8 weeks. Even when he returned he was not the same player, averaging about 4.4 yards a carry in 51 attempts.
Of course a medical information that all the teams get plays a role in where a player is selected. In fact the reason the NFL Combine was first established was to save teams money. The goal was to have the prospects put through medical examinations that all the teams would share. This eliminated each individual team from the need to do the same research.
It is not like Taylor is some career backup who never played. He had 536 rushing attempts for his career although only 78 came during his senior year. He gained 2,884 yards (5.4 avg) and 36 TDs with 55 receptions for 434 yards (7.9 avg) and 3 TDs.
Taylor has an interesting rushing style that helps him maintain leverage while staying elusive enough in the hole to find daylight. This first clip is a perfect example of what I am trying to describe.
He starts out on the left side of the pistol formation then moves to his right after the handoff. You can see how he weaves back left to find the hole then gets low to gain a leverage advantage. This also increases his power. You can see that he gains a couple extra yards after he is hit solidly by the safety. Taylor is 6’ 3” so he was coached well to drop his shoulders and give the defense less of a target to hit while increasing power.
Taylor combines speed, power and elusiveness into a single package. He is a Derrick Henry type of runner. He is not as big but has a lot more wiggle in his game. When he gets into the open field he is not looking for someone to run over like many big backs. He is looking to set the defender up to make him miss. Here is a prime example of his skill set.
Taylor is in an “I” formation in a one back set facing a 4-3 defense with the inside linebackers covering the off tackle holes. This is some form of a blitz from the defense that has the right inside linebacker racing around the edge. This is perfect for the offense as he vacates the hole the play was going to be run through. With good blocking and the LB gone there is no one to touch Taylor once the center comes out and picks off the left inside linebacker. Now Taylor weaves his way through the hole with controlled speed and puts a nice move on the safety, forcing him to whiff on the tackle attempt.
This is a powerful yet easy running style which allows Taylor to find his way through the defense. Only at the end when the left cornerback tries to swoop in for the tackle does Taylor turn on the afterburners to race into the endzone. This is a combination of speed and power with enough wiggle to set himself apart from an ordinary power back. This was a 35 yard touchdown run pretty much without being touched.
This next play is just really well-blocked, but Taylor still shows off his impressive speed for a second 35 yard touchdown run. In this game Memphis rolled up 380 rushing yards with Taylor getting 161 yards on only 11 carries.
The Tigers pull the backside tackle and the tight end to lead through the hole. Once the tackle makes his sealing block on the linebacker, there is no one for the tight end to block. Taylor sails through the defense untouched into the endzone.
On a side note the player with no one to block is a member of the “All Name Team” tight end Joey Magnifico. He is someone who might be available as a UDFA, and the Jets would be wise to bring him in for a look. He has good size at 6’ 4” and 245 lbs. He had only 71 receptions in 4 years, but he is a good athlete. He averaged 15 yards per reception with 12 TDs. He is also a decent blocker in-line and in space. I can see the crazed Jet fans screaming the names Wesco and Magnifico. It’s too beautiful not to happen.
Here is a run that shows some of the vision that Taylor has in the run game. SMU disguises their defensive intentions well. This is a double “A” gap blitz through the same hole. It is a pass blitz. A run blitz would have been a blitz on both sides of the center. As it is the Tigers have the perfect play call away from the it.
This play is designed to start left then go to the right. It gives a false read to the second level defenders and allows the tight end to come across the formation as a lead blocker. The play works as planned with our guy Joey Magnifico getting a nice block in the open field on the safety. The right side corner comes over to make a tackle but gets bulldozed by Taylor. The tackle attempt does throw Taylor off balance which takes away his speed and power. This allows backside safety to make the tackle.
This next play is a read option with split backs. In this formation you can run an RPO (run-pass option)or a true read option. The reading part of this play gives enough hesitation to allow the right side back to get a edge sealing block on the defensive end.
This play works because the back gets a great block on the defensive end which allows Taylor to get to the edge by cutting of the backside of that block. Taylor uses a nice stiff arm on a defensive tackle who comes free. Our boy Joey Magnifico gets enough of a block on the inside linebacker to seal the opening. Then Taylor gets low on the tackle attempt on the safety at the 5 yard line. He is able to keep his balance into the endone. On the play Taylor uses a stiff arm then breaks 3 tackles to score without going down.
On this next play Memphis spreads out the defense with 3 wide receivers to the left and pulls the backside tackle as a lead blocker. The front side tackle loses his block so the hole is closed for Taylor on the inside.
The backside tackle just crushes the defensive end so severely that Taylor is able to go around the outside of the block into the secondary. This play keenly shows you the value of downfield blocking by the wide receivers. It is often mentioned by scouts and coaches but most often is underappreciated by football fans. All the receivers to the play side get excellent blocks so all Taylor has to do is weave his way around the the traffic. This shows some good vision by Taylor, but it was the great blocking on this play that turned it into a TD.
This is another really well blocked play on a basic off tackle hand off. Watch again the downfield blocking and the trap block by the play side guard.
Again Taylor is in a single back “I” formation with a straight handoff. There is no real deception on the play, just good blocking and strong running. You see our boy again Joey Magnifico loops around the defensive end then races downfield. Magnifico doesn’t just find a guy to him. He looks back to see the path of Taylor so he can throw a meaningful block that Taylor can read and exploit. Taylor has to break stride while maneuvering through traffic. This allows him to be caught from behind by the back side corner. This was a 35 yard gallop, but Taylor is upset he didn’t score. This is usually the temperment of a good back.
Taylor is not a great route runner, but he can catch the ball in the flat or on screen passes. He has not shown an extended route tree but perhaps he could develop that skill with the right coaching and a team that wants him more involved in the passing game. Here is a catch in the flat with little to no nuance.
At the snap he just basically runs to the boundary then turns for the pass. He makes a nice grab of the throw then turns upfield for a first down. The play just looks awkward because it is so simple. It is still effective as Taylor is able to outrace his coverage to the side of the field before anyone could pick him up. He is the primary receiver on this play.
As you see our growing star Joey Magnifico gives the linebacker an “oh excuse me” (pick) bump which allows the play to become so wide open.
These last two plays are of the more traditional screen pass variety which gives Taylor a chance to get into the open field and use his vision to elude tacklers.
Here is how a screen pass is drawn up in a playbook. The defenders are trying to stop the pass (Memphis threw for 428 yards in this game) so they are focused on getting to the passer. The second level defenders are all dropping deep into coverage. Taylor just cuts off the first block, gets to the sideline, and outruns the entire defense to the end zone.
This game was a blowout of grandiose proportions as Memphis was up by a 56-0 score at halftime. Amazingly for Memphis 11 players had at least 1 rushing attempt, and there was at least 1 reception by 12 different receivers. Maybe by the end the waterboy was in the game.
I have mentioned before that the best time to throw a screen pass is not when your QB is being harassed but when you are throwing the ball well. If your line can’t hold back the rush the linemen will actually be thinking a screen pass is coming. The defensive backs then can inch closer to the line of scrimmage because the QB has little time to throw. A deep pass is out of the question. When you are throwing the ball well you can see (as this play illustrates) that the defense is trying furiously to get to the quarterback, and the 2nd level defenders are dropping to get space. This gives you the most space to work with, and the linemen can set up their blocks.
This play (our last GIF) is the same exact play as the last GIF except this time Memphis is playing against #25 ranked UCLA and Josh Rosen. Both teams threw the ball well in this game (UCLA 463 yards and Memphis 398 yards) in a 48-45 Memphis win.
You can see that it doesn’t make a difference whether you play a low level team or one ranked in the top 25. The screen pass works best when you can throw the ball well. This play Taylor just has to weave around a few blocks then speed into the end zone untouched. The play just verifies the positive skill set of Taylor. Many backs at his size don’t have the same speed, agility, or balance that he shows.
Patrick Taylor Jr. is a big powerful back that also has a tremendous skill set. His injury didn’t allow him to play more than a handful of games in 2019, and there was no assurance he was 100% healthy when he did play. His medical test will be the real determining factor in his Draft status. As it stands now he is likely low on many teams’ Draft boards and might be completely off some altogether. I think this could be a chance to get a player with a definite upside in the last few rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Draft analyst Tony Pauline had Taylor as a UDFA entering his senior year. I don’t know how he figured that. The lower he is rated, the better. It doesn’t affect the type of player Taylor is, it just means he is available for less Draft capital.
The Jets currently do not have a Patrick Taylor type player who could become a bulldozing power back in the red zone yet able to make chunk plays as well. This would be a big swing at the fence for a late round selection.
What do you think?