The Vikings continue to search for a legitimate third wide receiver behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Jordan Taylor, an offseason signing, could make a surprising impact. Daniel House analyzes the former Denver Broncos wide receiver.
With the Vikings searching for a capable third wide receiver, the front office invested both draft and free agency resources into the position. Minnesota spent two seventh round selections on wide receivers Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson. The two rookies join incumbent candidates like 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, shifty slot receiver Chad Beebe and former CFL standout Brandon Zylstra.
Treadwell has yet to show he can reach the expectations of a top draft pick. Time is quickly running out, but if the Vikings decided to release him, they would pay $2.506 million in dead money. With the team’s tight cap constraints, they will likely keep Treadwell around for one final season. Due to the current construction of the wide receiver depth chart, the door is open for a young candidate to emerge. Nobody really thought about free agent signing Jordan Taylor, but he has been generating buzz during the offseason program. The recent signee will compete for the Vikings’ No. 3 wide receiver job.
An undrafted free agent out of Rice in 2015, Taylor played four seasons with the Denver Broncos. He missed all of last year after undergoing bi-lateral hip surgery in early 2018. Taylor is now healthy and ready to compete for a larger role in Minnesota. He’ll certainly benefit from understanding the terminology he learned in Denver with new Vikings Senior Offensive Advisor, Gary Kubiak. It's something that may quietly ease his transition to a new system.
Taylor is a big-bodied wide receiver with 6-foot-5 size and a wide wingspan. He once wanted to play two sports at Rice and threw a 90-plus-mph fastball, but injuries caused him to focus on football. On the gridiron, Taylor posted more than 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns in 42 games, including a 14.7 yards per reception average. He is not the most impressive athlete and didn’t blow up testing metrics prior to the 2015 NFL Draft. However, he has made a career for himself by slowly improving his technique.
The young wide receiver always used his size, body positioning and ball skills, to win tough battles in traffic. In order to get separation, he had to run correct routes -- using his quickness out of breaks to accelerate and get space. During his career at Rice, he was frequently placed in the slot. When checking out his frame, he is not the type of player one would anticipate flourishing in this type of position. He has a tall frame, but is listed at just 195 pounds. This allows him to maintain his quickness, but also directly impacts his strength.
Taylor played on the outside occasionally, but actually, a large portion of his snaps came inside. The Rice coaching staff frequently used him in space, but also took advantage of his size to push the ball downfield.
The clip below is just one example of Taylor lining up in the slot and running a bubble screen to the sideline. He is tough to bring down in space and has an ability to bust through arm tackles for additional yardage. This is a trait that translated well during his time in Denver, too.
Taylor has quick feet and can get separation because he swivels his hips quickly at the stem and gets position. Since he doesn’t have burning speed, he has to run the right route depth and use his feet to set everything up. In the clip below, you’ll notice how much separation he gained off a simple out.
As I noted earlier, Taylor’s versatility is key to being a potential complementary option to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. If Taylor can play outside, and in the slot, it leaves the Vikings with three interchangeable options at the wide receiver position. When Taylor played on the outside, he sometimes struggled to get separation, but when he ran the correct route and released, his size took over when tracking the ball. In the clip below, he gets just enough separation out of the release and uses his long wingspan to make a difficult over-the-shoulder red zone grab. Inside the 20-yard line is certainly another area where the Vikings could unleash Taylor this year.
One thing that aligns with his future NFL film, is how well he runs routes to the hashes. In those situations, he uses his long strides to get the defensive back on his heels. He then has the skills to sink his hips and drive to the hash for extensive separation. He has a real knack for snapping off corner routes and getting separation both inside and out of the red zone. In the clip below, look at how tight he keeps the defensive back to his hip, while controlling his body and maintaining position.
Taylor’s body positioning, control and hands allow him to win tightly contested catch battles. He’s really aggressive, which occasionally makes up for some of his athletic limitations. If he can continue to add additional strength, he can win more of the physical battles needed to elevate his game to the next level. In the clip below, he uses his quick feet to release, gets just enough separation and hauls in an acrobatic one-handed grab.
Another big trait that really stands out with Taylor is his ball-tracking. This is something that both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen do so well. When the ball is thrown outside of his frame, Taylor can adjust, occasionally slow his body, maintain control and track the pass. The clips below check all of the above boxes and illustrate the body control/positioning, tracking and hands that allow Taylor to be successful.
These areas have translated to the NFL in a smaller sample size. The big key is how much Taylor can improve from a technical standpoint. His route tree wasn’t very advanced at Rice, but he’s shown small progress in this area over time. Denver occasionally used him in space and he managed to pick up a high volume of yards after the catch. During his two active seasons, he only recorded 29 receptions for 351 yards and two touchdowns.
The versatility he possessed and his surprising ability to frequently break tackles, exceeded my initial expectations. He was used occasionally in the slot with the Broncos, but based upon his experience at Rice, he could possibly play inside more in Minnesota. In the NFL, he has worked at both spots and he recently was shown in the slot during a Vikings.com video. In the clip below, Taylor lines up in a bunch set and runs a dig route. The defensive back was confused by the route concept and got caught staring. Taylor reached his spot quickly because of his long strides and recognized the right depth to break off his route. He also is tough to bring down with first contact or an arm tackle and is quietly skilled in space.
His awareness also shows up during instances where he understands the coverage and settles into the soft spot. In the game against Indianapolis, he reaches a 14-yard depth, gets the defensive back off balance, recognizes the safety is helping over the top and settles into the soft spot of coverage.
One area where he stood out in both his Rice and Broncos film was when he was running routes deep and to the hashes. Whether this is corner routes or fades, Taylor always has adequate body position to make a play on the ball. He can get the defensive back to overcommit and adjusts to the ball in traffic. Again, he shows an ability to make an aggressive play on the ball, via a last-second adjustment. He was really strong in the mid-to-interemdiate passing game, specifically on routes testing the sidelines.
He also did the same thing against New England and ran a deep out into soft coverage and recognized the leverage of the defensive favoring inside. The eyes of the cornerback got caught looking in the backfield and Taylor adequately snapped off his route at the correct depth to take advantage.
Like his film at Rice showed, he was also a red zone target because of his size and wide catch radius. During one of his two touchdowns for Denver, he took on the safety and made a difficult contested grab in the back of the end zone. Once Taylor can make additional improvements as a route runner, specifically with his strength and footwork at the top of his routes, he could take his game to the next level.
Initially, I was anticipating to see a pure vertical threat when I watched Jordan Taylor's tape. This was one instance where I was surprised. He can make plays in space and has extensive experience in the slot at both the college and pro levels. In the clip below, the Broncos cleared out the underneath drag by having the tight end run vertical, which occupied the safety. With the Chargers blitzing, the Broncos called the perfect play to get Taylor isolated 1-on-1. He took advantage and showed off his ability to make plays after the catch.
At the college level, he was used in space quite frequently in the form of quick wide receiver screens. When opponents are playing a heavy volume of zone coverage, teams will run these plays because of the total space and room the receiver has to create off the line of scrimmage. At Rice, we noted how often Taylor ran bubble screens and benefited from having blockers set in front of him. These type of screens can also help isolate the pass rush because defensive ends have to be ready to help downfield. This is especially the case if a team is running a tunnel screen. It's essentially a way to keep defenses honest and gives playmakers an opportunity to create plays with their athleticism. In the clip below, Taylor gets the ball in space and again shows how capable he is to make plays after the catch and fight through tackles.
After taking a close look at Jordan Taylor, I'm intrigued by what he can provide for the Vikings. He's versatile and has the potential to help not only vertically, but in the slot. Taylor needs to get stronger to prevent getting pushed around at the top of routes. We will also need to see how he responds to the hip surgery he had in the early stages of 2018. There were a few moments where he fell down because he took some physical contact from a defensive back. Due to his athletic limitations, Taylor has to use his route running and size to his advantage. If he can continue to develop the details of his game, he could be a solid complement to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Right now, the door is certainly open for any of the candidates, including Jordan Taylor, to snatch the third wide receiver role.
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