Davion Taylor’s development could define the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles.
Whether it be in the draft, free agency, or even via trade, the Eagles have been wary to dedicate anything of value to the position, instead opting to fill their ever-reemergent depth chart holes with a series of warm bodies who become less tangible with each passing season.
Jordan Hicks? Roseman let him sign with the Arizona Cardinals for a relatively inexpensive deal. Nigel Bradham? Well, Roseman actually did sign him, only, it was to a contract with outs that would allow the Birds to cut bait on the Florida State ‘backer at the first sign of performance decline; earlier this year, in fact. Mychael Kendricks… actually, Mychael Kendricks sorta brought his release upon himself, you know, with the whole ‘being federally charged for insider trading‘ thing.
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In hindsight, I guess Chip Kelly’s in hindsight laughable decision to trade LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso messed Roseman up more than anyone initially realized.
So naturally, when the Eagles released Bradham, allowed part-time starting linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill leave in free agency for an even cheaper contract with the Miami Dolphins, and only added ex-Chargers’ olb Jatavis Brown on a bargain bin contract, it led many to believe the Eagles were in the market to finally make a splash to address the middle of their defense once and for all in the first round.
*sigh* it’s like some people just want to be disappointed.
The first, and second, and most of the third round came and went, and the Eagles, in all of their predictable glory, watched every big name, dare I say marquee backer trickle off the board. Patrick Queen went to the Baltimore Ravens after the Eagles used their first-round pick on TCU deep threat Jalen Reagor, and didn’t bat an eye when Willie Gay, Logan Wilson, and Zack Baun went shortly thereafter. Heck, the Ravens even double-dipped on the position, adding Ohio States’ Malik Harrison before the Eagles selected one linebacker.
All and all, things were looking pretty bleak for the Eagles (and their fans). I mean sure, Nathan Gerry has been pretty good as a converted safety who can stick on the field in the nickel, and T.J. Edwards was featured prominently on, like, every ‘second-year breakout players’ list published pre-draft, but is that duo really good enough to win another Super Bowl? Who would even play weakside linebacker? Seriously, who? The CFL’s Alex Singleton? Did I just make that name up? I know the Eagles signed a trio of safeties in free agency and will probably convert to a big nickel base defense full time this fall to improve their coverage unit and get their best 11 guys on the field, but come on? Who’s going to thump between the tackles?
But then… it happened.
As if the football gods had finally grown tired of the constant stream of prayers for a young, franchise linebacker to build around – and a fullback, though that one may never come – the Eagles used their third-round pick, a compensatory selection earned by allowing Nick Foles to walk in free agency, to draft a linebacker; a linebacker who ran a 4.49 no less.
On paper, Davion Taylor is the perfect linebacker for the modern NFL. He’s got solid size for a modern-day space linebacker, sideline-to-sideline speed, and a nose for making plays in the backfield. Taylor amassed 100 solo tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, and a pair of sacks in 24 games of action with the Colorado Buffaloes, an impressive feat when you consider the 22-year-old wasn’t allowed to play football for almost the entirety of his high school football career due to religious reasons.
Listen to what our friends at Pro Football Focus’ 2-for-1 Podcast had to say about Taylor during the predraft process here, it’s fascinating.
So naturally, the process of going from a practice-only player with basically no in-game experience, to a JUCO stand out, then a two-year contributor for a PAC-12 team, and finally a third-round draft pick has to be a trip, as Taylor will tell you. During his (online) media availability, Taylor admitted as much, before absolving himself of any excuses, instead of committing fully to learning the team’s scheme in the hopes of becoming the next Deion Jones.
That hard work, and how quickly it can get done, has the potential to make or break the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2020 season.
Okay, break is sort of a stretch. If Taylor is unable to unseat Brown, Edwards, or Gerry for a starting role, he’ll surely find a home on Dave Fipp’s special teams unit while he continues to familiarize himself with Jim Schwartz’s read-and-react linebacker assignments, as you don’t need to understand the intricacies of zone coverage to run down the field at full speed to tackle a would-be returner head on his feet.
With that being said, if Taylor can beat the odds and show a keen enough understanding of whatever position is assigned to him to actually earn in-game snaps, oh boy, the sky’s the limit for the Eagles’ defensive ceiling. Taylor is easily capable of covering running backs, tight ends, and even some slot receivers in man coverage, while helping Schwartz to ease off the embarrassingly deep ‘sticks’ zone coverage he’s been forced to deploy with regularity on third-and-longs due to ineffective cornerback play.
And the best part? Taylor is under contract through the 2023 season for an average of $1.12 million a year, so Eagles fans can get friendly with the McComb, Mississippi native before Roseman inevitably lets him walk in free agency to avoid another eight-digit linebacker contract.
A pessimistic take? Maybe so, but I just don’t trust Howie Roseman when it comes to linebackers and free agency. We all saw what happened with L.J. Fort.
In the eyes of many talent evaluators, Davion Taylor is a project. With enough time to mature and the right work ethic, plus some luck for good measure, the former Colorado linebacker could become a model modern day linebacker thanks to his supreme athleticism and plus character. With that being said, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense would be so, so much better if that development can come sooner rather than later, as a Deion Jones/Fred Warner-type to the middle of the defense could elevate Jim Schwartz’s defense to height as of yet unseen in South Philly. No pressure, right?