RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article
Tennessee football fans had the pleasure of watching a young secondary grow and improve throughout the 2018 season. One of the players that has positioned himself to be a big problem for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers for the next couple years is rising sophomore cornerback Alontae Taylor.
Brad Coleman, a writer for 247Sports, recognizes Taylor’s potential and included him in his list of potential breakout players in the SEC for this upcoming season.
The article features 10 players from the SEC that Coleman sees as “potential all-conference honorees and eventual NFL Draft picks.”
Fellow rising sophomore and teammate Bryce Thompson was believed by some to have had the “better” season last year at cornerback, but Taylor was no slouch himself. Thompson was voted a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, but Taylor also had a solid season and graded out as one of the better true freshmen corners in all of college football according to Pro Football Focus.
Coleman believes Taylor’s second season with the Vols could be even better than his first, however.
Taylor, a former four-star prospect from Manchester, Tennessee, looked destined to play on offense when he arrived at Tennessee. Taylor began spring practices as an early enrollee as a wide receiver, but he was moved to cornerback and stayed there in the fall. Despite not playing defensive back in high school, he looked at home there in his freshman year and has plenty to build off of in 2019.
“A feisty defensive back who often wore his emotions on his sleeve as a true freshman in 2018, Taylor made nine starts in 12 games and managed 40 tackles, two forced fumbles, two breakups and a blocked kick,” wrote Coleman. “He became the first Tennessee true freshman to start in the secondary since Cam Sutton in 2013 and wound up being one of the nation’s best first-year players. Most believed the former four-star might play on offense for the Vols, but Taylor has found his niche at the back end and helped stabilize Tennessee against the pass in 2018. Taylor will be a big part of the Vols getting to a bowl game during Jeremy Pruitt’s second season.”
After a disappointing end to the 2018 season where Missouri scored 50 points and torched the Vols through the air and Vanderbilt scored 38 points and did the same, UT’s defense is going to have to play better if the Vols are going to make it back to a bowl game in 2019. Taylor’s play will have a big impact on that.
Along with Thompson and senior safety Nigel Warrior, the Vols have the making of a very scary group in the secondary if they can play consistently. This group, however, will need to continue to grow and learn from last year if this football team is going to have a successful season.
New defensive coordinator and secondary coach Derrick Ansley should help this young group take the next step in their development. He has experience coaching great secondaries, so players like Taylor and Thompson should benefit from his leadership. Not only that, but head coach Jeremy Pruitt has developed plenty of NFL draft picks in the secondary himself throughout his coaching career.
The combination of Pruitt and Ansley should result in an improved secondary in 2019, and Taylor could be poised to grab a lot of attention in his sophomore season.