Thus far in my scouting reports, I’ve detailed the play of two defensive tackles (Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward and Cal’s Cameron Jordan), but both of those guys would move to defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme. There are only so many college prospects who possess the size and athleticism to be nose tackles in the NFL.
The Cowboys definitely need to upgrade their defensive line. In my 2010 Defensive Line Grades, the highest grade I gave to any defensive end was a 79.8 percent to Stephen Bowen.
The Cowboys could certainly use a space-eating nose tackle. Acquiring one would allow the team to move Jay Ratliff to defensive end—a position at which he could more effectively utilize his skill set. Thus, grabbing a “true” 3-4 nose tackle would probably allow the Cowboys to upgrade two positions.
Phil Taylor is a rare “pure” 3-4 nose tackle. At 6’4”, 337 pounds, he’s what the Cowboys seek in a space-eater. Taylor displays excellent anticipation and burst for such a big guy, getting off the snap very well.
He’s also incredibly athletic for his size. Check out the 54-second mark below when Taylor initially gets pushed back but locates the ball-carrier, spins off a block and makes the tackle.
Taylor’s play recognition is superb, as evidenced by the play he makes on a screen pass at the 20-second mark. He fights off of blocks extremely well, utilizing excellent hand placement and quickness to make plays, even when he’s initially neutralized (2:48 mark).
While others argue that Taylor excels against the run and struggles in his pass rush, I disagree. I think some look at his size and simply assume he’s “only” a space-eater, but that’s not the case. In my opinion, the push Taylor generates against the run is only average for a man his size, even against single-teams.
He has great balance, but he uses poor leverage at times right off the snap, allowing smaller, weaker players to control him. This doesn’t happen all the time, but Taylor will need to be more consistent in his run-stopping ability. The good news is, it isn’t something that can’t be fixed—Taylor has what you can’t coach and lacks what can be taught.
The penetration Taylor gets in his pass rush or when he doesn’t have much gap responsibility is superb (2:31 mark). Mike Mayock and Co. commented that a man of Taylor’s size “shouldn’t have those moves.”
There are concerns about Taylor’s conditioning. He reportedly weighed close to 390 pounds at one point during his college career. However, when he’s at full stamina I think the concerns about his motor are unwarranted. Check out his pursuit down the line of scrimmage at the 3:20 mark.
There are also potential character issues with Taylor. He got kicked off of Penn State’s team before enrolling at Baylor. Is he committed to football? The answer to that question will determine the success of Taylor’s NFL career, as he has first-round talent.
Taylor seems to be rising up boards a bit and I think that trend will continue. If he shows up to the NFL Combine in great shape, I believe he’ll be a first-round pick. Actually, Taylor has top 10 or top 15 ability in my opinion, but needs to prove his dedication to the game.
If the Cowboys deem Taylor’s conditioning and character concerns as unfounded, then he’d be a tremendous pick for the ‘Boys in the early second round. Right now, I’d place the chances of him dropping that far at about 50/50. With so few “true” 3-4 nose tackles (in the world, really), the acquisition of Taylor might become a priority for the ‘Boys. We’ll know more about Taylor’s draft stock in a few weeks.
Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011