If hope lingered in Seattle about DE Jadeveon Clowney being more than a one-year semi-wonder, it was extinguished Friday.
By moving up 11 spots to No. 48 in the second round, the Seahawks not only showed hops remarkable for a franchise fond of gravity, they all but shut the door on re-hiring Clowney. They think they drafted a quality pass rusher in DE/LB hybrid Darrell Taylor of Tennessee.
Since neither coach Pete Carroll nor general manager John Schneider would use such terms to describe the changed outlook, we turn to Taylor’s head coach with the Volunteers, Jeremy Pruitt, for insight into what Seattle acquired. Pruitt previously won national titles as defensive coordinator at Florida State and Alabama.
“I actually believe Darryl Taylor is a first-round talent,” Pruitt said during a Thursday interview on Knoxville’s WNML radio. “He developed a little bit of a stress fracture, a stress situation, in his lower leg during fall camp last year. It really limited him to kind of taking his game to the next level.
“I think it shows you a little bit about his toughness. I think wherever he gets drafted, someone is gonna get a steal there.”
Obviously, Pruitt is a little biased. But he wasn’t alone. Pro Football Focus was impressed too.
Darrell Taylor was the highest-graded edge defender in 2019 SEC play. pic.twitter.com/gyjGtQtO27
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 25, 2020
Taylor is not exactly like Clowney, but he is, at 6-4 and a chiseled 267 pounds, more similar to Frank Clark and Chris Clemons in the LEO position. And according to draft pundit Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, Taylor’s value was rising among GMs. Including Schneider.
“We almost took him in the first round,” Schneider said on a Zoom conference after the second and third rounds were completed Friday (rounds four through seven begin at 9 a.m. Saturday). “And he was actually the last guy we had in before the quarantine came into effect.”
If Taylor reaches a Clark-like level as a pro, that bit of random good fortune in March may be looked upon as pivotal. As a fifth-year senior captain, Taylor had 8.5 sacks as an outside linebacker and was a Southeastern Conference star, but the stress fracture he played with throughout his final college season required a surgical insertion of a titanium rod on Jan. 30. That meant he missed working out at the scouting combine and lost some luster.
But he didn’t miss his recruiting trip to Seattle.
Each club is allowed to bring in 30 such draftable players. According to Schneider’s recollection, Taylor’s visit was one of a few before the NFL shut down operations because of the coronavirus.
The visit was a hit. And the Seahawks gave him a physical that showed his leg was healthy, an advantage other teams were denied by the shutdown.
“We ended up having lunch with him that day,” Schneider said. “He did a great job, just a very impressive young man.
“He could jump from room to room, to Pete’s office, to my office, to the equipment room, to the training room to spend time with our docs, spend time with the defensive staff. He just handled himself very well.”
So well that the Seahawks gave up their picks at 59 and 101 to get the New York Jets’ spot at 48. That’s no small amount of treasure considering the Seahawks had only six picks to start the day. Even Taylor was impressed.
“It’s exciting because they traded up to get me,” he said. “That means they must’ve really wanted me. I can’t thank them enough for it.
“I think I bring I lot to the table. I can run, I can cover, I can do whatever you ask a linebacker for and a defensive end.”
Taylor, 23, played end for three years in a 3-4 scheme, and linebacker for his final two, so he can stand as well as put a hand in the dirt. Described in one scouting report as a player with “five-star traits and three-star skills,” he’s not likely to be an instant success. Then again, Clowney’s superior skills were occasionally fleeting, in part to injuries.
Taylor becomes the fourth draftee the Seahawks, under Schneider and Carroll, have traded up to get, joining WRs Tyler Lockett in 2015 and DK Metcalf in 2019 and DT Jarran Reed in 2016. So the track record, and some luck, suggests a strong chance for success.
Seahawks’ third-rounder will push Fluker
National college champion Louisiana State set an NFL record Friday — 10 players selected in the draft’s first three rounds. The Seahawks had to get some of that bayou action.
In OL Damien Lewis, they took the biggest part. At 6-2 and 329 pounds, Lewis is destined in Seattle to challenge starting RG D.J. Fluker. Lewis saw some of this coming.
He and his best friend recently were playing the Madden 20 video game when prophecy erupted.
“I had the Seattle Seahawks because they’re my favorite team,” he said on a Zoom conference with Seattle reporters. “And he was like, ‘You’re going to be on the Seahawks. I see them drafting you right now. They like to run the ball.’ Because I ran the ball on him a lot, so he was like, I see you with Seattle.”
Lewis, who was taken with the 69th pick after trading back from 64 with Carolina, which gave Seattle 148, becomes the 19th offensive lineman on the roster that will keep eight or nine whenever the season starts. The overload’s purpose is clear to Schneider.
“We want as much competition as we possibly can to protect our quarterback,” he said.
“We think we have the best quarterback in the NFL. We have to figure out the best group to protect him.”
Carroll expects Lewis to advance quickly to push the 350-pound Fluker, the two-year incumbent on his final contract year.
“Damien is guy who can compete with with Fluke right away,” he said. “He’ll take a backseat to nobody. That’s really the the reason we took him. He’s a grown man. We talked about it a couple days ago — we want grown men in front of Russell, and that’s what this guy is.”