RTI contributor Spencer Morrell and managing editor Nathanael Rutherford contributed to this article
The Tennessee football program has a remarkable track record when it comes to putting talented players in the National Football League. The Vols have produced NFL playmakers on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball over the decades. It’s not unusual for Tennessee players to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft, though the Vols have unfortunately been absent from the first round over the last three years.
Edge rusher Darrell Taylor may change that on Thursday night.
NFL.com analyst Peter Schrager now believes that the Volunteer edge rusher could be selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday night. According to Schrager, Taylor’s name has been brought up a lot over the last couple days, and he could see Taylor sneaking into the first round. He projects that Seattle will trade with the Green Bay Packers to get into the tail end of the first round, and Schrager has the Seahawks drafting Taylor with the 30th overall pick.
“Taylor’s a name that’s been coming up a bunch over the last 48 hours,” Schrager writes. “I’ve got him sneaking into the first round to a team that could use some more help up front.”
If selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, Darrell Taylor would be the first Vol picked in the first round since Derek Barnett was picked 14th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 draft. That would be pretty good company for Taylor, as Barnett was the best pass rusher to come out of Tennessee in the last decade. Barnett also made game-changing plays as a rookie in the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in 2018.
Taylor could be the next Vol to follow the same path of success if picked in the first round on Thursday. Taylor appears primed to go from making big plays on Saturdays to making big plays on Sundays.
Thursday’s updated mock draft is just the latest boost to Taylor’s stock over the last few weeks.
In Matt Miller of Bleacher Report’s updated big board a couple weeks ago, Taylor was listed as his “riser of the week.” In Miller’s final big board before this year’s draft, he lists Taylor as the No. 8 edge rusher available in the draft with the caveat that Taylor’s foot injury makes him a wildcard. Taylor did not participate in the Senior Bowl nor the 2020 NFL Combine despite being invited to both as he rehabbed from offseason surgery.
Earlier this week, Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network tweeted out that he had spoken to “a bunch of GMs” over the weekend, and Darrell Taylor was one of the players that Jeremiah believes will be drafted “higher than anticipated” after those conversations.
Taylor has been consistently projected as a third-round draft pick in mock drafts, with one of the highest projections having him going No. 72 overall in the third round to the Arizona Cardinals. That prediction came from R.J. White of CBS Sports.
Despite not being able to participate in events this offseason, Taylor’s film from his junior and senior seasons and his interviews with NFL representatives have helped him catch attention. When you throw in the fact that edge rushers are in high demand in every draft cycle, but particularly in this year’s draft class, then it might not be so surprising to see Taylor’s surge over the last few weeks.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound edge rusher from Hopewell, Virginia capped off his Tennessee career with a productive senior season, leading the Vols in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (10). In his last two seasons with the Vols — both with Jeremy Pruitt as head coach — Taylor totaled 82 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 21 TFLs, four passes defended, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.
Taylor finished his UT career with the 10th-most sacks in school history, amassing 19.5 in his four years at Tennessee. He finished with 26.5 TFLs and 118 total tackles in 43 games played.
The 2020 NFL Draft will be held virtually and will be televised on ABC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. The first round begins at 8:00 PM Eastern on Thursday, April 23rd. Rounds two and three will be held on Friday, April 24th starting at 7:00 PM Eastern, and rounds 4-7 will begin at noon Eastern on Saturday, April 25th.