There will be a lot of talented players and several future NFL draft picks on the field when Tennessee and Indiana square-off in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on January 2nd down in Jacksonville, Florida. But none compare to Tennessee pass rusher Darrell Taylor according to one NFL Draft analyst.
Todd McShay, ESPN’s NFL Draft expert, says that Taylor will be the best player on the field for either team during the bowl match-up next weekend.
“He’s the guy you gotta watch in this game,” McShay said. “He’s the best player on the field. He’s improving as a run defender, but what he does best is get after the quarterback. He’s got speed off the edge, and he can turn that speed into power. I think Indiana is going to have a lot of trouble with him in terms of just dealing with him. Are they going to double team him, chip him, use a tight end?”
For the second-straight season, Taylor leads the Vols in sacks. The redshirt senior has seven on the year to go along with eight tackles for loss, 40 total tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, five quarterback hurries, and four pass breakups.
This season, Indiana has done a pretty good job of protecting their quarterbacks. In over 440 drop-backs as a team, the Hoosiers have only given up 23 sacks in 12 games. According to TeamRankings.com, Indiana ranks 41st out of 130 FBS teams in sack percentage allowed, with only 5.24 percent of their drop-backs resulting in a sack.
But some of those numbers are skewed by Indiana’s poor quality of opponents they’ve faced. The better teams on the Hoosiers’ schedule have been able to get after the quarterback.
Ohio State totaled six sacks in a 51-10 victory over Indiana, while Michigan (3) and Penn State (2) also totaled multiple sacks against Indiana. The Wolverines and Nittany Lions also defeated the Hoosiers. Michigan State — the only other team with a .500 or better record Indiana faced this season — got a sack in their 40-31 victory over the Hoosiers.
All but one of Taylor’s seven sacks this season have come against SEC teams or BYU. The only game Taylor recorded a sack that wasn’t against Power Five equivalent competition was against UAB. Otherwise, Taylor has done all his damage against the better competition on UT’s schedule.
That doesn’t bode well for Indiana, despite their overall impressive offensive numbers.
As for Taylor, McShay currently sees him as a third or fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he has confidence that Taylor will see his stock rise after the season ends.
“Taylor, to me, is a third or fourth round prospect who, as the process goes on — talking about the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine — you see the speed at 6-3, 260 pounds, he could wind up rising up the board,” McShay explained, “and it wouldn’t shock me if Taylor winds up going somewhere in that second round range when it’s all said and done.”
Tennessee didn’t have a single player taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, and the last time the Vols had a player drafted in the first two rounds was in 2017 when Derek Barnett was taken No. 14 overall in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Taylor would be the first Vol since Barnett to be selected in the first two rounds of an NFL Draft if he does sneak into that high of a draft pick.
In 42 career games, Taylor has 18 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss, 112 tackles, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and seven passes defended. If Taylor were to record two sacks in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, he would finish his career tied with Steve White (1992-95) for the ninth-most sacks in a Tennessee career.