Just last season, LSU’s roster featured only a pair of playable linebackers: Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith. Dave Aranda’s early season experimentation with the 3-4 quickly faded as Arden Key moved back to a pure pass-rushing role with his hand in the dirt. Aranda shoehorned former four-star defensive end recruit Tashawn Bower into the SAM linebacker role, which didn’t suit his skills.
What LSU truly lacked were definitive answers on the inside beyond Kendell Beckwith. Injuries forced Donnie Alexander, at 215 pounds, into significant action late in the season, but zero options existed beyond that. Aranda simply didn’t have playable bodies to install the odd front defenses he often used at Wisconsin.
Fast forward just one more full recruiting cycle and LSU is suddenly swimming in LB depth. Donnie Alexander added 15-20 pounds of muscle and assumed a starting role. Devin White is pegged to be an SEC breakout player. Corey Thompson is delaying his retirement to fill an outside role. And, of course, Arden Key returns. And those are just the predicted starters. A slew of youngsters fill out the depth chart that allows Dave Aranda more versatility and flexibility in 2017.
Tyler Taylor is one of Aranda’s newest weapons and it won’t be long to see him utilized.
Back of the Card
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
247 Composite Ranking: ****
247 Composite Rating: .9091
At 6-2, 238 Taylor comes with a frame ready to play early. Ranked as the No. 11 inside linebacker in the country, Taylor finished as the no. 242 overall player in the 247 Composite. Taylor’s offer list suggests he may be undervalued, featuring the likes of Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Miami, Michigan State and more. His recruitment boiled down to an Auburn/LSU battle, which the good guys obviously won.
On The Field
Already There: Instincts, Downhill Skills, Box Skills, Pass Defense
Working On It: N/A
Doesn’t Have It: Elite Athleticism
Instincts: Right off the bat, :01 in, you see Taylor crash hard, quickly read the screen and leap back into the passing lane for the INT. Bad QB decision yes, but headsy play by Taylor. Aranda made note of his instincts and understanding in his press conference last week.
Student of the Game: This ties above, but Taylor looks like a studied player. At :43 you see a guy that doesn’t pay with reckless abandon. He’s reading the mesh point the whole way. He crashes hard, which forces the QB read to give, while also beating the FB’s poor attempt at a block and then pursues the ball carrier for the tackle. Great fundamentals. 1:18 may be my absolute favorite play on his reel. This is a zone option play, where he attacks the outside shoulder of the player trying for the reach block. This effectively forces the run to cut back up inside into the teeth of the defense. He then shoves the blocker back into the rushing lane, giving the back no where to go. Making good use of his hands, he clears the blocker off and makes the tackle. That’s crystalline.
Downhill Skills: Like his class counterpart, Jacob Phillips, Taylor flashes the ability to play downhill. I love how he plays the down block at :16. He crashes hard but with great leverage to stonewall the FB, throw him off and make the tackle. 1:57 he’s got some edge skills too. Nice line to the passer, physical with the back and using his hands to get an easy sack.
Box Skills: A lot of HS LB have a steep learning curve when it comes to challenging blocks and learning how to play through the body traffic that can be the box in college football. Taylor seems to take to it really naturally. At 1:41 they try to trap him, poorly, but his hand usage again keeps him in okay shape, where he’s then able to fight across the face of the blocker and get out and make a hit on the QB. 4:20 you see the kid really knows how to take on blocks. That will get him on the field early.
Pass Defense: If you ran Taylor through testing, he wouldn’t awe. But he’s a pretty fluid athlete in pads. I was surprised to see how natural he looked when asked to drop in coverage and his HS actually asked it of him quite a bit. There are quite a few clips where he’s even lined up on the outside, like a CB or S would be. That’s asking a lot for someone who projects to be a true ILB at the next two levels. He performs admirably. Look at :29 and you see him flank an out and up down the sideline and stay in position to make an INT. 3:11 you can see how fluidly he gets into his drop and he just looks natural in coverage. The INT is the result of a horrible throw by the QB, but the way he moves is very impressive. 4:54 again, this is a 230 lb. MLB lined up on the slot, taking a 10-yard drop in zone coverage and then making a hit on a sideline route. He’s a good pass defender.
Doesn’t Have It
Elite Athleticism: I’m willing to admit I could be dead wrong on this. Any testing times I found for him weren’t superb. And when I watch him run, he doesn’t have sideline-to-sideline type of speed. He’s fine, but he’s not going to blow the doors off anything. But then he does these surprisingly athletic things, like the ridiculous leaping, sideline NFL catch at 2:06.
Poseur's 80s Movie Comparison
The 80s were a glorious time for cult classics. The rise of Sundance and indie cinema would later reach mainstream validation less than a decade later, but in the mid 80s, you had to know a good video store clerk to find those hidden gems. Tyler Taylor is also one of those hidden gems, arriving on campus fully formed, much like the Coen brothers did with Blood Simple.
Without trying to engage in too much hyperbole, Blood Simple is one of the most important films in American cinema. These two weirdos from Texas came out of virtually nowhere with a movie that came to define American indie. They are the Velvet Underground of filmmakers. The movie is full of audacious shots, one of the best jump cuts ever, and a brilliant final sequence that still shocks. They arrived, like Taylor, fully formed.
What the Future Holds
Taylor is a really polished player coming out of high school. When I say he’s not working on anything, this comes with the assumption that every freshman has a learning curve of adapting to the college game. What I don’t see is a part of his game that really needs more work than another. He flashes the ability to do a little bit of everything well.
When Aranda says he’s the most instinctual, it shows on tape. You can tell he’s diligent in working on his craft, studying film and understanding his responsibilities. This isn’t a guy reliant on tremendous athletic traits to carry him. In a lot of ways, he’ll remind of old school, vintage middle linebacker. He’s got captain of the defense potential because he seems like the type of kid that will know every single person’s responsibility on a given play.
I think what potentially limits his upside is that he doesn’t have great athletic ability like Jacob Phillips or Patrick Queen. He’s merely an okay athlete. Yet, I’d say similar things about Kevin Minter, and I think Taylor is further along in his developmental arc than Minter was at this age. He’s also taller, which should help with his range.
Taylor is just kind of a ballplayer. He’s smart and intuitive. He understands the game and that piece comes really naturally to him. But he’s not all brains, either. He knows how to play physically in the middle of the defense, which can be a steep curve for some young players that are so gifted they can run around blocks.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him take the field before any other true freshman, just because of that knowledge and ability to play gap responsibility with sound technique. I haven’t seen much of practice and I doubt Aranda would ever say it in so many words, but my guess is Taylor is the furthest along of any of the young LBs in terms of development.
He’s got major potential, and how high he climbs may depend on how much athleticism he can unlock being in an elite training program.
High End: All-SEC and leader of the defense. Tackles leader in conference.
Low End: Multi-year starter who doesn’t emerge until he’s an upperclassman.
Realistic: Taylor will play right away and probably step into a starting role by 2019 at the latest. He’s going to be a very good, all-conference type of player at LSU.