March 4, 2002
by Keith Weiland
While much of the pre-draft focus has been on Houston’s probable selection of David Carr with the first pick, the overall quality of the team’s 2002 draft will be decided in the thirteen picks that follow. Likely among those thirteen selections will be a running back, and one name has started to emerge from the pack.
That name is North Dakota State’s Lamar Gordon, a Division II running back who wowed NFL personnel evaluators, notably Texans General Manager Charley Casserly, at January’s Senior Bowl workouts. But should it be Gordon? Though he has awesome physical skills, size and speed, there may be another option available on the draft’s second day, one that could have the better pro career.
And that name is Chester Taylor. Taylor slips down draft boards for a couple reasons. He has only average size at 5’10” and 205 pounds, and has been clocked in the forty from anywhere between 4.49 and 4.68 seconds. Taylor is easily overlooked because he won’t be anywhere near the top of the size and speed categories coming out of this year’s NFL combine.
Taylor also comes from Toledo, a good football program locked into one of the weakest Division I conferences, the Mid-American. There are some questions about the level of competition Taylor has faced, but certainly no more than the same questions facing Gordon. The difference here is that Gordon leapfrogs Taylor because Gordon’s physical traits jump off the paper. Taylor’s do not.
What’s not on paper is how impressive Taylor’s burst is at the line of scrimmage. He hits the hole fast, and he can break tackles. Taylor has the ability to make the first guy miss, and he always keeps his legs moving after the first hit.
Taylor’s college statistics stand out. He has rushed for 1,620 and 1,476 yards in each of his last two seasons. Though Taylor regularly carried the ball more than 20 times per game over the past three seasons, his per carry average over that span is still an impressive 5.8.
Taylor also has a nose for the endzone, scoring 39 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He’s not the type of back that can pull a “Barry Sanders” and turn a three-yard loss into a sixty-yard touchdown scamper, but Taylor is an instinctive, productive player that rarely seems to be tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Taylor’s talents aren’t limited to his rushing abilities. He has good hands and is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. In 2001, Taylor caught 26 passes for almost ten yards per reception and three more TDs. He also connected on two passes last year, and both completions resulted in scores.
Taylor was not heavily recruited coming out of high school because of his grades. Only two schools showed any interest, Toledo and Western Michigan, but Taylor has matured to become an Honor Roll student during his time at Toledo, even graduating early.
One yellow flag will fly near Taylor on draft day, that being the one that cautions NFL scouts of a player who has had a history of injury problems. Taylor has sustained a few ankle injuries during his time at Toledo. Ankle injuries can sometimes be more bad luck than anything, and Taylor is hoping that negative may be turned into a positive, as there have been times when he hasn’t been able to make the sharp cuts while it was healing. Now healthy, that may not be as much of a concern.
Taylor will also have to answer the question marks on him as a blocker. Toledo’s offense did not rely on Taylor for his blocking ability. If Taylor wasn’t handed the ball on the play, he was usually either in motion or involved in a fake. Unfortunately for Taylor, his blocking will remain his biggest unknown.
The inconsistency of Taylor’s scouting reports may ultimately sink him to the draft’s second day, but Taylor’s last two games capture his talents the best. In the Motor City Bowl, Toledo’s postseason game, Taylor rushed for 190 yards on 31 carries. He scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter to put Toledo on top. In the Hula Bowl last month, Taylor ran for two touchdowns and took home the MVP honors for the North squad.
Taylor is at least as tough on the first carry as he is his last. He is the type of back that will get stronger as the game wears on. The same may be said one day of his NFL career.
Keith Weiland believes the Texans need to find Carr a reliable receiver among their first-day draft selections, not a running back, especially when a player as talented as Taylor will be available in later rounds.