Defensive tackles don’t tend to be all that exciting, but ears tend to perk up when talking about a defensive tackle with the ability to disrupt the opposing quarterback. New York Giants fans, in particular, tend to get very interested when a defensive player with the last name “Taylor” and who wears number 56 gets mentioned.
Miami defensive tackle Leonard Taylor checks both of those boxes.
The Giants made a number of investments in their defensive line in 2023 in the hopes of shoring up their run defense. They have a pair of late-round — but intriguing — draft picks as well as free agent acquisitions. But they also parted with one of their best defensive players when they sent Leonard Williams to the Seattle Seahawks for a second-round pick.
Could Leonard Taylor fill the void left by Leonard Williams?
Prospect: Leonard Taylor (56)
Games Watched: vs. North Carolina (2022), vs. Texas A&M (2023), vs. North Carolina (2023), vs. Clemson (2023)
Weight: 305 pounds
- Play strength
Taylor is a long, athletic, and explosive defensive tackle prospect.
Taylor has a versatile build at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds that allows him to play in both three and four-man fronts, as well as rush from a variety of alignments. He’s proven to be a very disruptive player for the Hurricanes’ defense and is capable of creating plays on his own.
Taylor has a relatively flexible lower body for a bigger player and is able to settle into a compact stance prior to the snap. He also times the snap very well and features an explosive first step with little wasted movement. Thanks to his explosiveness, Taylor is at his best when bull-rushing or converting speed into power. He’s able to fire off the ball low and hard, exploding into blockers’ chest plates. Once engaged, he drives his legs and is able to bull opposing linemen into the backfield.
He also has some savvy as a pass rusher, setting up blockers to expand rushing lanes before attacking gaps. Taylor has a decent repertoire of moves for an interior lineman, and flashes forklift, rip, swim, and spin moves in addition to his bull rush and speed-to-power. His power and athleticism make him a headache for individual blockers, and he’s able to be consistently disruptive behind the line of scrimmage. He also shows good quickness when making plays off of blockers, with surprising agility for a player his size.
Taylor is a tough competitor who’s willing to fight through waves of blockers. Likewise, he has great effort and good hustle in pursuit.
- Hand usage
- Run defense
Taylor is explosive and has a nice array of pass rush moves, but he needs to get more adept and accurate with them. Too often he was “stuck” on blockers who were able to re-anchor or find his chest plate, and would be unable to shed them in time to make a play on the ball or convert pressure into a sack.
Likewise, Taylor’s run defense was somewhat suspect outside of his disruptiveness. While his presence could force runners to find new lanes, his tendency to get hung up on blockers limited the number of plays he was able to make. It was notable that Miami rotated him off the field on many obvious running downs.
He also showed some issues with balance when attempting to navigate the trash around the line of scrimmage. While it wasn’t a big problem, Taylor was on the ground a bit too often.
Taylor should start his career as a primary player in an active defensive line rotation. That said, he projects as a starting defensive tackle for a defense using an attacking, 1-gap scheme early in his career. Taylor should be able to find a home on almost any modern defense and can play as a 3, 4i, or 5-technique in a 4-3, 3-4, or “multiple” defense.
Disrupting the quarterback is paramount in modern defense, and Taylor can do that. He might even have untapped upside as both a run defender and pass rusher. He would benefit from a good defensive line coach who can polish his technique and fully unleash his athletic traits.
His issues in run defense (and, to an extent, pass rush) were compounded by some curious usage by the Miami defense. Taylor was frequently aligned as a 0-technique nose tackle and forced to contend with guard/center double-teams. While that enabled advantageous matchups for other defenders, Taylor isn’t well-suited to holding blockers or two-gapping. He should be put in position to attack into the backfield as often as possible.
Does he fit the Giants?
Yes, as long as they run a 1-gap defense.
Final Word: A solid Day 2 value with the potential to be a fringe first-rounder.