Second-year receiver Taywan Taylor is expected to have a bigger role in Tennessee’s new look offense in 2018. Drafted out of Western Kentucky in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Taylor caught 16 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season, while also running eight times for 43 yards.
Many Titans fans are high on Taylor and expect big things from him in his sophomore season. Personally, I feel he hasn’t proved himself yet as a legitimate weapon on the field. Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t potential for him to do so, but with Tajae Sharpe returning, Corey Davis as the potential WR1 and Rishard Matthews as the WR2, Taylor has some competition in his court.
With that said, let’s take a look at the sophomore’s skill set.
Taywan Taylor’s got raw speed, which allowed him to be featured on read option/sweep plays in his rookie season. New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur regularly used running back-turned-receiver Tavon Austin similarly, so even if he doesn’t win out one of the top WR spots, he can still be a threat on these plays and be a rotational player.
Similar to Tyreek Hill on the Kansas City Chiefs, Taylor has the acceleration and velocity to win against man coverage by pushing outside vertically. For a small sample size, he’s had a few plays like this that highlight how much of a weapon he could be with a larger role.
But while Taylor has the athleticism, he has other things he has to polish up. As a receiver, he’s struggled against tight coverage, on contested catches, and when using his sideline footwork. For his sample size, it’s not the biggest deal in the world, but it’s something to watch as he attempts to develop in his second season in the NFL.
Taylor’s hands are fine on normal, everyday catches, but against tighter coverage is where he seems to struggle. In the Divisional Round matchup alone he had two such drops, back-to-back no less.
On this play, Taylor is lined up in the slot. While his footwork against coverage is average, his speed allows him to create some separation here. This is a perfect throw from quarterback Marcus Mariota. It allows Taylor to make an adjustment to a spot where only he can make a play on the ball without forcing him out of his way.
If you’ve figured out the pattern of my work on this site, you can guess Mariota got the short end of the stick on this play. Taylor gets his hands on the ball but can’t grasp it as he hits the ground, leaving a big play on the field in the process.
Taylor lets down Mariota again on the very next play. The quarterback scrambles outside the pocket to buy time, spotting Taylor running towards the sideline. The throw is perfect, but Taylor’s approach to the ball is off. It’s likely that he was thinking about grabbing the ball while keeping his feet in at the same time, and perhaps that threw him off a bit. It looks like he got his feet in bounds, but he cleanly drops the pass without any disruption from the defensive back.
The tw throws above are not perfect by any means, but they highlight how limited Taylor’s catch radius is up to this point. In his rookie season he wasn’t a guy that could give his quarterback a high margin of error, rather needing to be thrown near perfectly in contested coverage.
Taylor lets the defensive back overwhelm him on the first play, and on the second play he fails to get a handle on the pass from Matt Cassel. It’s an under thrown ball, but also shows how much improvement Taylor’s catch radius needs. Being a vertical receiver isn’t just about speed; You need to be able to win tight battles against man coverage and have good feel and timing for the ball in said situations. Last season, Taylor didn’t seem to have that.
Of course, Taywan Taylor played with a smaller sample size and an abysmal head coach and coordinator combo, so it’s not out of line to suggest Matt LaFleur could get the most out of the 2017 third-round pick. He has the flashy ability to work on straight vertical plays and option plays as well.
But if the Tennessee Titans want to run a diverse offense in 2018, guys like Taywan Taylor must develop and fix their mistakes.