Has Tyrod's Time Finally Come?

Heading into his 10th NFL season, Tyrod Taylor is atop the depth chart at QB for a Chargers team that has Super Bowl aspirations—and he isn't about to step aside for a free agent or rookie.
photo of Tyler Dunne Tyler Dunne @TyDunne NFL Features WriterApril 9, 2020

Through such delicate enunciation, such care and caution, his raw confidence can go entirely undetected. It's always been that way. Tyrod Taylor hasn't been one to spew grandiose proclamations at any point in his nine-year career.

Publicly, privately, wherever.

He wakes up before anyone, works out before anyone and has stayed strikingly cool and calm through one of the most bizarre quarterback arcs of his era.

There was the wait behind Joe Flacco. Four years of waiting. There were embarrassing slights. Hello, Nate Peterman! There was terrible luck. A concussion ended his career in Cleveland before it had a chance. And there was, a year ago, another round of snubs. All along, Taylor had faith in himself, and then some.

And now? His belief is stronger than ever. It is bubbling to the surface. He truly believes that his time has come as an NFL starting quarterback—that everyone is finally about to see the real Tyrod Taylor.

So even in his church-genteel tone, the quarterback currently at the top of the depth chart for the Los Angeles Chargers does not hold back.

He is The Guy in L.A. That's how he has approached every situation, but this opportunity feels different.

"It's definitely more real than not, now," Taylor says. "I've worked my butt off day in and day out to get to this point, to be able to look at year 10 in the National Football League and still be competing for a starting job. It's a testament, for me, of the work that I've put in and the focus and the discipline I've had over the years.

"At the same time, I'm motivated more than ever."

He paid zero attention to the Tom Brady sweepstakes, and he isn't worried about some free agent like Cam Newton or Jameis Winston or some draft pick swooping in to steal his job. Oh, the Chargers have the sixth overall pick this year? Whatever. Taylor will not be tuning into any draft coverage. He hasn't watched one second of the event since the Ravens took him 180th overall in 2011.

He states—as fact—that he can do precisely what Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray are doing. That's him. He sees himself as the same threat. He was just ahead of his time. It took the NFL a decade to come around. And now that the league has, damn, what a feeling that is for Taylor. No longer are so many offensive minds plodding through game plans like Neanderthals, archaically sticking square pegs into round holes.

Egos are being suppressed. The athletic QB is being unleashed.

Taylor declares that he is about to join this revolution and "force" the NFL to accept who he is. Who he always was. With a loaded roster around him, he says he can take this team all the way to the Super Bowl.

To everyone out there rolling their eyes, Taylor doesn't care. Doubt him all you want. His teammates are behind him. His coaches and the organization too.

After nine long years, his time has come.

Even Taylor cannot completely hide the pain of the day, the moment his calm should've shattered into a zillion pieces and his career should've careened off a cliff. Nov. 15, 2017. In the middle of a playoff chase, at 5-4, the Bills benched him for a rookie named Nathan Peterman.

Taylor told Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott back then how he felt about the benching—that he disagreed, strongly—and Peterman proceeded to have one of the worst games in NFL history. Taylor was reinserted and, despite a supporting cast gutted by a new regime, ended the franchise's 17-year playoff drought.

His reward? A ticket out of town. To Cleveland. Then to the sideline tent. Then to the bench.

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 02:  Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Cleveland Browns walks out of the tunnel prior to the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

For years, Taylor couldn't wrap his head around the way it all played out. He tried to live by his mom's advice—to never wallow or whine or ask, Why Me?—but you could tell it still pissed him off.

Now his tone is softer. Almost Zen-like. He adopted a "new mindset, a fresh mindset," he says, and "hit the reset button" to rid himself of any and all negativity.

"Just not holding on to any of the things that happened in the past," Taylor says. "The Buffalo situation. Cleveland. Putting it all behind me. Understanding it happened for a reason and learning from it—and not holding on to it moving forward."

There's one caveat to all of this. One important distinction.

It's part of what keeps him going, even now, even at 31 years old in August. "I still use it as motivation," he says. "I'm still holding on to it."

Which is why, last year in L.A., he'd wake up at 4 a.m., to get to the facility by 4:30. Working, nonstop, as a No. 2.

And being a backup helped in many ways. He was able to learn from a potential future Hall of Famer in Philip Rivers, and the two became close friends. Living 2,700 miles away from family and friends—completely out of the public eye too—afforded him plenty of alone time too. And physically, a year without hits sure helped.

Even after nine years in the league, he says he only has five years of wear and tear. This is the fittest he's been in years, and he says he knows "way more" about the position than he did back in 2015, the first time he became a starter.

"Just taking away from everything I did last year, I think it's put me in a great state mentally."

Which is all fine, all dandy, all inspiring fodder for a self-help book—but all means zilch if an organization doesn't believe in him.

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has expressed some of this belief, declaring publicly that Taylor is "in the driver's seat" to start—but also that "nothing's finalized." Taylor says he's been talking with both Lynn and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen constantly, formulating the team's plan of attack. Asked if he's gotten any guarantees or reassurances of his role privately, Taylor pauses. He says he'll keep that to himself. But then he sounds like a player who believes he absolutely will be starting. And winning.

"We've definitely had conversations, and they've been good conversations," he says. "Clear on both ends. From drafted in the sixth round in 2011 to now, I've always had the same mindset. And that is to prepare like you're the starter day one. I think that's the best way to go about it, because you put the most into it and you get the best reward out. Even as a backup, I don't think you should have a backup mindset. You're limiting yourself. You don't reach your full potential.

"I think this will be a special season for us."

We all crave the unknown in sports. It's why the draft has become draft season, with fans everywhere becoming pseudo NFL general managers—dissecting seven-round mock drafts, YouTubing prospects and fighting one another on Twitter to the point of profanities and bloodshot eyes. (And, no, quarantine life has not calmed any of this down.)

It's the time of year when the allure of what a rookie could do for your team always seems to trump what you think you already know about a QB. About a guy like Taylor.

Nobody knows what, say, Oregon's Justin Herbert will be yet. But most think they've already seen the Tyrod Show, and it was a perfectly fine network sitcom. Good, solid, nothing detonating the world's attention like a Netflix doc.

But this is what Taylor believes: that he is still an unknown.

Because this is what Taylor witnessed through backup life: a quarterback revolution.

Watson's dazzling improvisation. Jackson fusing 4.3 wheels with a deadly flick of the wrist…and being named MVP at 23. Mahomes turning the position into a synthesis of sports…and winning a Super Bowl at 24. All are distinctively creative. All redefined "quarterback" one kick to the eye, one ridiculous escape, one numbing juke at a time. Rather than trying to jam unique talents into pocket-constraining schemes—like the one that caged Taylor in his final year in Buffalo under coordinator Rick Dennison—coaches are completely rewiring the X's and O's to fit their QBs.

Taylor has watched it happen, and waited, all the while thinking: "I can do that. That could be me." Even as recently as last season, though, he didn't sound so sure he'd ever get a chance to prove it. He hoped the tide was turning, saying back in September that he thought the days of QBs being put in a box because of race or size were close to being over. One more year of the league seeing Mahomes no-looking throws at freakish arm angles and Lamar turning the football field into his own backyard and Murray cookin' just fine as a 5'10" rookie seemed to be what it took.

"I like to see their success, because I like for the league to understand there's different guys," Taylor says. "Everybody doesn't have to be the same person to play quarterback.

"The more success that the dual-threat guys are having, coaches are looking to build a scheme around that. Because of how dangerous you can be. With the right person back there—and I believe I am the right person back there—it makes your team even more dangerous."

Taylor's shown this, in spurts. His elusiveness was often electrifying. He's always loved the deep ball too.

CARSON, CA - AUGUST 24: Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Los Angeles Chargers avoids the Seattle Seahawks during a preseason NFL football game at Dignity Health Sports Park on August 24, 2019 in Carson, California. The Seattle Seahawks won 23-15. (Photo by John McC
John McCoy/Getty Images

So what will the reboot resemble? What should people expect to see?

He doesn't plan to morph into some hazardous stuntman. Taylor calls the NFL a "possession league," and his 1.5 career interception percentage is a strength. He's thrown 20 picks on 1,362 career attempts (Rivers had that many on 591 attempts in 2019). But Taylor will also take shots deep, vows to be dangerous outside the pocket and says he can change his launch point on throws and, no question, can run the zone read.

If all goes as planned, the Chargers could cannon-blast their own two-man game on defenses between Taylor and do-it-all running back Austin Ekeler. Both are weapons who break the mold of their position.

And Taylor believes the L.A. coaching staff is open to a new mold. He's letting Chargers coaches know what he believes will work for him, and they're listening. Such a "complementary" process—players and coaches talking through a scheme together—has been refreshing, he says.

"Things have come full circle," Taylor says. "Sometimes, you don't understand it. It's frustrating at times. But the opportunity is there. I'm working each and every day for it."

He isn't using quarantine life as an excuse, throwing every day. He's kept in touch with teammates and says they're on the same page. He loves that this team is loaded with unselfish, motivated players. Leaders at every age. Derwin James, only 23, is one of the best leaders Taylor says he's ever been around.

The makeup of this team, he repeats, puts it squarely in the Super Bowl picture.

He briefly imagines that moment in Tampa, Florida.

"To be the one leading the troops out there," he says, "would definitely be amazing."

Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

For once, Taylor is wanted.

Truly wanted.

That's what stands out to Quincy Avery, who has served as a personal QB coach for Watson for seven years and has worked with Mahomes and Taylor himself.

Avery's perspective on whether Taylor can follow in Watson and Mahomes' footsteps may be as good as any, and that's where he starts.

He sees the Chargers allowing Taylor to finally be his true self. That, to Avery, is a QB who's "uniquely protective" of the football and athletic, which he explains, could be a special combo.

Plus, he notes, the cupboard is full in L.A. This is a team one year removed from going 12-4 with the kind of artillery other offenses dream of: Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry. Quarterback, theoretically, is the only missing piece. But to Avery, it's not. The Chargers already have their answer.

He believes Taylor can create Watson-like, Mahomes-like magic.

"I think so," Avery says. "With the receiving corps he has and the defense he has around him, he has an opportunity to be special and carry this team to the playoffs. When you get into the playoffs, anything can happen. And the way people perceive you and your career is completely different.

"The way people viewed him in Buffalo is wrong. He did some really good things there. And the way he played, I think, was a lot better than a lot of things Josh Allen did. But people look at Josh Allen completely different than the way they looked at Tyrod. I think he has an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong this year."

Avery, who like Taylor lives in Atlanta, says Taylor is in phenomenal shape. He can't imagine Taylor ever being in better shape than this, actually. And the QB coach who's seen Taylor the most this offseason, Jeff Christensen, agrees.

Christensen connected with Taylor through his former QB coach in Buffalo, David Lee. Both Christensen and his son, Jake, of Throw It Deep, are blown away by his work ethic. Before the coronavirus pandemic forced them to communicate remotely, they'd typically start their day together at 9 a.m. in Atlanta by watching film, then throwing at 11 a.m., then watching video of those throws, over and over and over again, and Taylor wouldn't leave until 7 p.m. Together, they'd analyze every one of his throws on film seven times.

It's not like they were picking apart different aspects of a throw, either. They'd zero in on one very specific element.

The goal is for Taylor to be able to self-correct on the fly when he's back in L.A.

The Christensens view their job as helping QBs play in any system, sharpening all "game-type throws" with an emphasis on being infallible from the waist down. Jeff Christensen doesn't hesitate in asserting Taylor can make every possible throw, but Taylor's attitude is what impresses him most. He's seen the reset mentality up close and says Taylor's been positive—only positive—whenever discussing his turbulent career.

"Those cats are rare," says Jeff Christensen, who also trained both of last year's Super Bowl QBs. "And it's genuine. He looks at it as one big growing experience. … He is that kid. He is that 30-year-old man that you literally want to marry your daughter. There is nothing about him that is anything other than straight-up. He's real."

The work ethic, he adds, is "unbelievable." To his knowledge, Taylor has four different people working with him on everything from his training to his ridiculously regimented diet.

Not that any of this is new. Everywhere he's been, Taylor's been known for such diligence. Teammates in Buffalo remember him tossing dumbbells around before they'd even thought about hitting snooze. In Cleveland, even after he was benched for good in favor of Baker Mayfield, Taylor made a point to run a full script of plays with two practice-squad players before practice, after practice and on off days. It would've been easy for him to cash out and collect his $16 million when it was obvious the franchise was rolling with its No. 1 overall pick. He didn't.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 16: Tyrod Taylor #5 and Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns stand on the field before action against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 16, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardn
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Of course, there are voices, plenty of them, who don't believe more hard work will necessarily translate into a new, electrifying quarterback on Sundays. One AFC personnel director tells B/R he thinks Taylor's value is as a backup, nothing more. He does not believe the Chargers are truly committed to Taylor as a starter and says that though Taylor is professional, polished and smart, such smarts are not reflected in his play.

"I don't think he plays this savant-like [game]," he says. "I wouldn't say he's a surgeon back there. He's not going to dissect plays very quickly. He's kind of methodical. I thought he lost a step two years ago. I don't think he has the mobility he had with Baltimore. That would save him. … Now, he's just a pocket guy who's short. He's kind of trigger-shy."

This AFC personnel director gets L.A.'s logic: Replace all of Rivers' turnovers with a QB who's safe, and wins may follow. He just doesn't think the Chargers are as close to contending as they believe. And if the Chargers hand-pick a new franchise QB in the draft, he can't see them keeping that player on the bench for long. Any short-term loyalty Taylor feels could vanish quickly in this Not For Long profession.

Detractors will also cite the fact that the offensive coordinator who oversaw Jackson's MVP season, Greg Roman, was Taylor's first OC in Buffalo.

Believers, meanwhile, will point out that the run-pass option movement was still in its infancy then. Avery sees Taylor as the perfect QB at the perfect time and points to defensive coordinators as the ones who actually changed the game these last couple of years. DCs know how much stress quarterbacks like Taylor put on a defense and have been telling their bosses.

The bosses started listening, and Taylor, to Avery, can drive those coordinators mad, because he's accurate and athletic.

"Man, when he gets this opportunity to really be the guy and go after it," Avery says, "I think this team could have a special year. It's his time."

If Ryan Tannehill can rise from the dead, why not Taylor? That's who Avery brings up. And if Nick Foles can go from nearly retiring to knocking off Brady in the Super Bowl, why not Taylor? That's who Jake Christensen brings up. Tannehill just signed a $118 million contract with the Titans, and Foles has a statue in front of the Eagles' stadium.

Perception can change. Quickly.

"He's in the last year of his contract," Christensen says. "On a good team. With coaches he really respects and gets along with real well. He has a new lease on life. If he plays as well as he knows he can play, God only knows what could happen the next three years."

Taylor gets it. His name isn't one that will have fans frantically calling the ticket office the second quarantine life ends. And for a team that couldn't fill a 27,000-seat soccer stadium last season and is moving into a 70,000-seat palace this year, perception matters.

He's the retread. He's not Brady.

CARSON, CA - AUGUST 18: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Los Angeles Chargers walks off the field after a pre season football game against New Orleans Saints at Dignity Health Sports Park on August 18, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djanse
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

But here's where Taylor is the perfect fit. He could not care less. He's had to live with the perceptions of others for nearly a decade, so to anyone who's writing him off—anyone who's less than convinced he'll be the new face of this franchise—his message is direct.

"I'm not going to let anyone outwork me. I love to compete," Taylor says. "I'm going to do whatever I can day in and day out to help our team be the best we can. To go out and win games on Sunday. … I can't tell people what they don't know. I just know that when you tune in, I guarantee that you will have fun watching the Chargers."

He's convinced everything that's happened in his life has led to this season. All the ups, the downs, the comical string of bad luck. Hell, even after getting usurped by Mayfield, he was screwed again. Taylor took the No. 2 job in L.A., only to see the Dolphins (surprisingly to him) cut Tannehill loose. He had talked to Miami. In retrospect, he could've been the starter there and gotten twice-per-year shots at revenge against the Bills.

But that's why, now, he's sure it was all meant to be.

Staying patient for a year cleansed Taylor's mind and positioned him to pilot a talent-rich, Super Bowl-ready roster.

"I wouldn't change anything, even the crazy things," Taylor says. "It's made me who I am today, on the field and off the field.

"Opportunities will come. When they come, will you notice it? If you notice it, will you be prepared? No. 1, I never want to let my teammates down. And I don't want to let myself down or my family down, either."

No, Taylor won't be watching the draft in two weeks. Ask anyone who knows him best, he implores. He's always been this way—always been locked in tunnel vision. Whatever the Chargers do with that sixth overall pick won't change how he thinks, how he prepares. He'll pour the same deranged amount of hours into the job, so why fret?

In the rare moments he's not training, Taylor is trying to give back. He knows millions of people couldn't care less about football right now. They're scared. They don't know what the future holds. So last month, Taylor donated $25,000 to the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank. His advice to all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Lean on your faith. Believe it'll turn around.

He's living that advice himself. The fact that he, the 180th pick in that 2011 draft, has a shot to start while the first overall selection in that same draft, Newton, is still a free agent, is a feat itself. There were 12 QBs taken that year, including six in the top 36 picks, and Taylor just may be the last starter standing in Week 1.

Of course, Week 1 is a ways away. Of course, people have been giving up on Taylor for a long time.

He's not sure why. His belief is bursting again.

"All I can do is show 'em with the next opportunity that they shouldn't have slept on me," Taylor says. "I'm definitely motivated more than ever. I'm motivated because I'm able to show my teammates and my coaches what I'm capable of doing. I'm not going out there to prove something to a fan or prove something to someone who may not like me.

"You're never going to please everybody. I'm not trying to please everybody."

And he means it. Maybe by this time next year, uttering his name in a sentence with Mahomes, Watson and Jackson won't seem so crazy. He doesn't care. Perception means nothing to him. Right now, he believes, he thinks the Chargers believe, and, honestly, that's all Taylor needs.

He'll take it from there.


Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.


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