Let me start out with this disclaimer: As I have said previously I normally want to watch at least four games of a guy before writing a breakdown, optimally five games. The reason is I usually need to watch that many plays against different players on different teams to get a good feel for who a guy is and, maybe more importantly, who he isn't.
With Taylor Decker I only got to watch the spades equivalent of three and a possible games. The Michigan State video may have been missing some plays because it was certainly shorter than the other videos and some of the plays were definitely out of sequence. If there were plays missing from that video, I have no idea whether they were good plays or bad plays for Decker.
The problem for me is, as we all know, time waits on no man. The draft is quickly approaching, so I won't have time to wait for a site to post more tape of prospects. If I have already watched three games and can get at least that possible fourth from somewhere, I'll take it at this point, especially if I think I've gotten a good feel from what I've already watched.
I do feel comfortable with my assessment of Decker, but there is a chance I missed something, good or bad, because I only was able to see that three and some of a fourth game. I wanted to point that out so that three years from now if I look silly because Decker's actual performance is significantly different from what I project him to be in the NFL, folks will look back and see that I was already copping pleas.
Anyway, with Taylor Decker I didn't like him much first time I reviewed his tape. Then as I watched each game several more times, he started to grow on me to the point where now I not only like him, I actually think he is a legit left tackle prospect.
Well, I got over the fact that Decker played sooo high all of the time. No, not that kind of high. I meant he didn't like to bend his knees.
Like, this dude would pop up right up out of his stance consistently in every game. When you're 6'7, popping up means you are usually waaaaay too high to be an effective blocker. "Low man wins" is real on the field, bruh!
Did I say usually?
I swear I don't know how Decker did it, but somehow, someway he managed to play really well even with his turrible leverage.
If you want to move laterally quickly, you generally are going to have to bend your knees. I'm sure y'all have heard of scouting terms like "knee-benders" and "waist-benders," and generally coaches like the knee-benders because those guys usually:
1) Come off the ball low when they run block, which helps them to move people off of the line of scrimmage
2) Can mirror pass rushers' lateral movements, which is important when he is trying to keep an athletic edge guy off his quarterback.
The weird thing is that Decker was still able to do pretty well at both of those things, even with his high pad level.
Now, I still have some doubts about how Decker will handle a lot of the top speed rushers in the NFL. Guys who can really bend and change direction well may end up giving him major problems. The truth of the matter is that not every team has a Von Miller, and many of the most athletic pass rushers these days actually line up on the right tackle and not the left tackle anyway. It is a legit concern because that trend likely won't last.
However, I didn't see anybody really give Decker the business in those three and a possible games. I'm talking noooobody. He was almost Ronnie Stanley-esque, especially with his pass blocking.
Arms not quite as long as Stanley's, but they still packed a nice little wallop.
And he was shutting cats down before they could get started. Hell, there was an edge rusher for Virginia Tech, No. 37, who looked terrified to even try a move on Decker after awhile.
Where Stanley and Decker differ significantly is on run blocking. Even with Decker coming off the ball high a lot, he still was strong enough to knock people off the ball.
Decker was physical and pretty damn nimble out in space as well, two things I didn't see much of from Stanley. Decker was outchea driving cats 5 yards down the field on a pretty regular basis. It makes you wonder how much better he might be with more consistent knee bend.
Line up at three technique on the goal line? I feel sorry for you bruh.
Decker not only showed power in his run blocking, he also showed that mean streak I covet so much. As a defensive lineman, I used to hate it when I was playing, but now I really appreciate offensive linemen that try to give their opponents a little extra at the end of the play. As long as it's inside the whistle, all is fair anyway, right?
Decker will straight up get after your ass! This one dude for Notre Dame, I don't know if he said the wrong thing trying to trash talk or if maybe they actually know each other off the field or maybe if Decker was just on one that day, but he gave that dude a li'l something something several times at the end of plays.
I can't eem lie, it made me smile a li'l bit every time I saw it happen.
I don't know who I am anymore.
So here we have a guy who consistently plays what I consider to be too high, but still gets the damn job done. And he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He also showed the ability to block well in space. But that pad level issue still makes me nervous about projecting what he will be as a pro.
Let me explain.
See, when a guy plays with poor knee bend long enough to be draft eligible, that's usually what you call one of those ingrained habits, and those things tend to be hard to get rid of. Decker has been able to not only get away playing that high in college, but actually excel while doing it. It may not be something that's easily fixed. It's also worth noting that, at least in the four games I watched, he didn't really face a lot of high-level edge rushers, which may have given him a false sense of security.
What if he can't get away with it as a pro?
Can a coach get Decker to play lower when he has probably been playing that high his whole life? I just don't know about that. Guys don't usually become better knee-benders this late in the game. While I like Decker, I just know from seeing the few times he did lose a guy he was trying to block that there could be trouble on the next level. He will be lining up against ridiculous athletes on the edge almost every week. His ability to change directions laterally will be challenged so much it's gonna make his head spin. If he can't lower his pad level, I'm just not sure that will work out well for him.
Besides that, for as fun as it was to watch Decker run block most of the time, there were a few times when he went against guys who weren't as easily moved. On those plays Decker's poor leverage really stood out and prevented him from being able to knock those defenders off the ball.
So is Taylor Decker a left tackle?
I think he definitely can be. Is he a first-round left tackle? That comes down to whether a team believes they can coach him up and get him playing with lower pad level. Gotta also factor in how little teams actually hit nowadays, too.
I know I talk about my old defensive line coach Rod Marinelli a lot, but he was and still is truly a certified badass so I'm going to keep doing it. He also really knows his shit. He used to always tell us that he would rather have us tired from practicing in pads and low, than fresh from practicing in shorts and high on Sundays.
For defensive linemen, playing high was a surefire way to get your ass kicked, especially against the run. We were mostly an under-sized front, so we generally couldn't afford to play high or it was going to be a long day. He was convinced that the more we hit, the more we would play with better leverage. looking back on it, I gotta say he definitely had a point.
If Decker doesn't get a whole lot of reps in pads working on staying lower -- I'm not sure how he could with the new rules about that -- it's gonna be hard for him to turn around and do it when it counts.
It is certainly a conundrum.
At the end of the day I do think Decker is going to play in the league for a long while because if he doesn't work out at left tackle he still has a lot of potential as a right tackle. As I have pointed out before, with many of the top rushers now lining up against right tackles, I imagine a lot of teams will be looking to upgrade that position as well. Decker might even be able to play guard -- especially with that mean streak of his -- though I think his leverage issues might be magnified if the team that drafts him decides to move him inside. Regardless, I think he will ultimately develop somewhere on the offensive line and become a starter because even with the high pad level, the guy moves really well.
Having said all that, I'm not sure you spend a first-round pick on a guy with that many maybes. In fact, I'm pretty sure you don't, and I wouldn't in this case either. That doesn't mean he would be a bad player, it just means that you can't afford to take the risk that high in the draft.
Since I don't have access to all-22 for college football games, I use the next best thing for my draft profiles, Draft Breakdown. They have the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects already cut up and ready to go. Also their site is compatible with the new NoHuddle app which turns your cell phone into a "cowboy clicker," which is pretty damn neat. For the purposes of this breakdown I watched former Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker play against Virginia Tech, Michigan State (sorta), Michigan and Notre Dame. Those represented the first, 11th, 12th and 13th games on Ohio State's schedule last season, respectively.