Here's my first in a series of player profiles that I and HSS are doing. He started it off with a great profile on Florida OG/OC Mike Pouncey who is, of course, the twin brother of current Steelers Pro-Bowl OC Maurkice Pouncey. I'm starting my turn with Baylor NT Phil Taylor.
2010 Stats: 62 Tackles, 7 Tackles for loss, 2 Sacks, 2 Passes defensed
At 6'3 5/8" and 337lbs. Taylor is the prototypical NT prospect. Because of his mammoth size he requires constant double-teams from opposing offensive linemen. During the one-on-one drills in the week before the Senior Bowl as well as during the actual game he was asserting his dominance over the so-called "Elite" offensive lineman of the 2011 NFL draft with names that include Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo, and many others. Even though he's more known for his run-stuffing abilities Taylor has also developed a nice swim-move to his pass-rushing repertoire. In addition to the swim-move he also uses his hands very well and violently to free himself from would-be blockers. He has a quick first-step and explodes off of the line of scrimmage and should have no problems pushing back most of the Centers he faces in the NFL.
As with all men of his size Phil Taylor has a tendency to wear down the more he's used through the course of a game. That pretty much means like Casey Hampton he'll only be a two-down player. In the past he's had some major weight issues, showing up on the Baylor campus at nearly 380lbs. At the Senior Bowl weigh-in's though he seemed to be in great shape and showed off surprising athletic ability for a man his size. And speaking of "in the past", there has been some noise going around in drafting circles about Taylor's off the field concerns stemming from an assault charge which got him kicked off the Penn State football team in 2008. I believe these off the field issues should be nothing to be concerned about. He was a young man who got into a fight at a fraternity party and was subsequently made an example of by the Penn State administration and Joe Paterno because the school's football program had come under fire at that time because so many players were getting into more serious trouble. So they kicked him off of the team so they wouldn't look like they were soft on player misconduct. From interviews with Taylor he seems genuinely sorry about the incident and has long since looked to move past
Since the Senior Bowl Phil Taylor's stock has continued to rise. He could easily follow the path that B.J. Raji took in 2009, where he was projected to go in the mid-1st round range and wound up being taken by Green Bay at 9. A team like Dallas, who coincidentally holds the 9th pick in the 2011 draft, could take him and move current NT Jay Ratliff to DE which would be better suited for him anyway. With the proliferation of the 3-4 defense across the NFL there are many NT-hungry teams like the Texans, Chargers, and Chiefs who will all be looking to upgrade the position and who draft ahead of the Steelers. Also don't count out the Ravens. They always draft talent over need and would definitely be salivating over a starting D-line of Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Phil Taylor. As such it'ss unlikely that Phil Taylor would be available at pick 31. Based on the needs of the other teams that would have Taylor high on their board the Steelers would definitely have to get in front of the Chiefs at pick 21 who have a big need for someone like Taylor. That means trading up with Tampa Bay at pick 20. Maybe the Mike Tomlin-Raheem Morris connection could hold a little sway there as far as compensation for trading up.
NFL player comparison: Casey Hampton
Physically he compares more favorably to John Henderson but his style of play and ability to command a double-team on every play is very much Hampton'esqe, as is his tendency to wear down with the more snaps he plays.
Taking a player like Phil Taylor is a prime example of need vs. talent. On the one hand the Steelers will have Casey Hampton for two more years and he hasn't shown that his talents have diminished with age, yet. On the other hand, how often does a true quality NT come around? Maybe once a draft class if we're lucky, and there's no guarantee that when it's time for Hampton to hang it up that we'll be in position to take his replacement come that time. The Steelers have more pressing needs to address, particularly along the offensive line and in the secondary, but if some of the targets at those position are unavailable I would have no problems with the Steelers taking Phil Taylor to be the heir to Casey Hampton's big throne, even if they decided to trade up for him as long as they don't gamble the rest of their drafts picks.