The biggest surprise of Eagles training camp thus far has to be the emergence of second-year linebacker Davion Taylor. Granted, we’re only three days into camp at this point, but nearly every beat writer has had nothing but positive reviews of his play.
The coaching staff has been mixing and matching their starters throughout camp. But Taylor has remained the starter in the Eagles base and nickel defense each day of camp.
Offseason acquisition Eric Wilson ran with the second team defense on day two and three, which can be attributed to one of two things. Either Jonathan Gannon knows what he has in Wilson and is giving some of the younger linebackers an opportunity, or, the defensive coaching staff is unhappy with Wilson early on.
We’ll likely get a clearer picture on that once the preseason games begin.
While it’s notable that Taylor has been a consistent presence on the first team defense so far, it’s important to remember that incumbent starter Alex Singleton has yet to practice due to his placement on the reserve/COVID list. Perhaps once Singleton is back, Taylor will be relegated to the second team. However, this is a completely new coaching staff and we shouldn’t assume that Singleton is a write-in starter at this point.
Singleton had a nice 2020 season as a full-time starter, but it wasn’t earth shattering. He still struggled in pass coverage, allowing a 75 percent completion percentage and a 102.8 passer rating when targeted. Pro Football Focus also graded Singleton’s coverage at 52.0, a below average mark among linebackers.
With how bad the Eagles linebacker play was last year, Singleton didn’t have a very high bar to clear to standout. Seeing Nate Gerry be a complete liability week in and week out last season made it easy for former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to turn to Singleton in an act of desperation. As long as Singleton was a somewhat competent linebacker, he was going to be better than Gerry. And that’s exactly what Singleton was in 2020. He didn’t cement his status as a starting linebacker by any means, leaving the door open for a guy like Taylor.
Taylor rarely saw the field last season, playing a total of 32 defensive snaps. And those limited snaps were nothing to write home about. He often struggled with his eye discipline and efficiently tracking the ball carrier or his man in pass coverage.
That’s something Taylor worked tirelessly on this offseason. The absence of OTAs and minicamp last year made every rookie’s journey a bit tougher. Especially for a guy like Taylor, who was touted as an ultra athlete, but a complete project at the linebacker position.
In a story from nj.com’s Mike Kaye, he lays out how Taylor has become a a favorite of this new Eagles coaching staff. Throughout the offseason, Taylor asked linebackers coach Nick Rallis for additional meetings every week, and he continued to study his playbook 3-4 times a week leading up to camp.
When asked about his development this offseason, Taylor stated, “I feel way more comfortable. Since we had OTAs [this offseason], it helped me way more, because I was able to get on the field early in the spring. I was able to practice the plays and get comfortable in this scheme. I feel like it helped me a lot coming into this training camp and I feel like it will help me going into the season.”
There’s no doubt that Taylor has all the tools to be a great linebacker in the NFL, even if he is a bit undersized. He figures to be a WILL linebacker for the time being, until he proves he can track running plays and attack ball carriers at a high rate.
It was easy to write off Taylor as just another failed Howie Roseman draft pick after last season. But all signs are pointing towards a breakout season for Taylor this time around. A new coaching staff that is invested in his development, along with a normal offseason of work should set Taylor off on a nice trajectory heading into the 2021 season.
Don’t be surprised if he’s getting the majority of linebacker snaps come Week 1, even if Singleton and Wilson are completely healthy.