It pains me to say that the Buffalo Bills have arguably the worst group of quarterbacks in the National Football League, as has been the case for the majority of the 21st century. EJ Manuel hasn’t lived up to the expectations Buffalo’s front office had for him when they made him the No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so this offseason the team traded for veteran Matt Cassel—an average, journeyman veteran that could potentially give the Bills what they had with Kyle Orton a year ago. They also signed Tyrod Taylor to a three-year, $3.35 million deal with some pretty hefty incentives.
Taylor was a sixth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft after passing for 7,017 yards and 44 touchdowns and adding another 2,196 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground during his time at Virginia Tech. He’s spent the last four seasons backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore and has just 35 pass attempts under his belt during that time. So why has this late-round passer that hasn’t showcased much on film garnered so much hype throughout the offseason?
Ravens safety Terrance Brooks raved about Taylor’s ability as the team’s scout team quarterback where he would emulate Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and others in order to prepare the team, stating
“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” said Brooks. “The kid can run. He can definitely sling the ball around. He’s one of my favorite quarterbacks — I loved playing with Tyrod. He always gave us a good look. Whenever we faced a good running quarterback, he always got us prepared. Most of the time, he was doing it better than they did.” “He was definitely a guy who could’ve been a starter. But he was behind Joe Flacco, a really good guy, too. If we ever needed Tyrod, I was pretty sure he could step up to the job and do it.”
Bills’ Head Coach Rex Ryan claimed that he tried to trade for Taylor during his tenure with the Jets, stating
“I actually tried to trade for (Taylor) when I was with the Jets. If he’s not the fastest quarterback in the league, he’s certainly up there with them. He’s got great run skills. I’m not gonna say he’s Russell Wilson, but he’s got a little of that in him, where he’s able to run zone-reads and pull the ball down and be effective.”
I went back and watched every snap Taylor has taken since entering the league—preseason and his one start against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012.
In today’s YouTube/Madden/Share Generation, the value of mobility at the quarterback position has skyrocketed. Taylor has great speed and is incredibly elusive, as displayed by the following clip against Cincinatti.
He’s capable of picking up big chunks of yards on the ground when his primary receivers are covered. Sustaining drives is key to operating an efficient offense and Taylor clearly can make plays with his feet when needed.
However, as exciting as these big runs are, the primary job of a quarterback is to pass the ball. Too often, I saw Taylor lower his eyes and take off when his first read wasn’t there. This is evident in the following clip in preseason against the San Francisco 49ers.
As soon as Tyrod sees the interior pressure, he lowers his eyes and rolls out—looking to make a play on the ground—despite having his tight end on the backside and running back as dump-off options. He’s sacked and forces the offense into a third-and-long situation.
Tyrod Taylor has an incredibly strong arm and throws a beautiful deep ball. He shows an understanding of the trajectory needed in order to deliver the ball to his wideout, while making it tough for a defensive back to make a play on it. This skill is highlighted in the following play in a preseason game against the team from Washington.
Kamar Aiken has Washington’s cornerback beat by a step, but on a go route to the sidelines the ball needs to be dropped right over the wideout’s shoulder. The trajectory and timing of the pass makes it an easy touchdown for Baltimore.
While Taylor’s deep ball is a thing of beauty, he relies on it far too often and it resulted in some head-scratching plays—like the following interception he threw against the New Orleans Saints in a preseason contest.
After watching this, I had to check the play clock to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. This type of throw is acceptable only, and I emphasize only, in the final seconds of a half when an ugly interception on a “DGAF” throw isn’t a big deal. But no, this was a 2nd-and-eight play 10 minutes into the first quarter. It’s obvious Taylor knew he was going deep before he left the huddle, as he calmly slid to the right in order to avoid the backside pressure.
With nothing but green turf ahead of him to run, Taylor chucks a bomb to Kamar Aiken, who’s got safeties on either side of him. The pass is thrown too high and is easily picked off. These are the types of head-scratching throws that should make fans pump the brakes before hyping Taylor as a difference maker.
On intermediate passes, Taylor is hit or miss and wildly inconsistent. In this rep against the Redskins, it’s second-and-goal from the nine-yard line. Taylor sells the play-fake and delivers a “wow” strike to his wideout on a flag route, only to have the would-be touchdown dropped.
The ying to Taylor’s yang appears in the following intermediate throw against the 49ers that resulted in an interception. Ravens’ wideout Marlon Brown runs a 15-yard comeback—a route that requires a quick three-step drop and a strike. Instead, Taylor hitches at the top of his drop and the trajectory of the ball allows the cornerback to squat on the route, gain leverage on the receiver and pick the pass off.
Tyrod did show the ability to work the middle of the field and manipulate opposing linebackers—a must for passers in today’s NFL in which the passing game is won through the middle of the field with horizontal stretch concepts.
It’s a risky throw, but Taylor puts enough on the ball to keep it out of the “Mike” linebacker’s reach, while leading his receiver enough to make the reception in stride to move the chains.
Tyrod Taylor is definitely an intriguing player. He’s got a big arm, he’s elusive and can pick up huge chunks of yards on the ground. However, as exciting as highlight reels can be, a quarterback must be efficient when working the middle of the field and must be able to adjust the velocity and trajectory of their throws in different situations.
Taylor has just 35 regular season passes under his belt in the four-years that he’s been in the league, so inconsistency is expected. However, he’s got a lot of work to do to live up to the hype that’s surrounded him throughout the 2015 NFL Offseason.
His biggest benefit at the moment is that he’s competing against an average veteran in Matt Cassel who has no “wow” to his game, other than that he’s found a way to be the handoff-er to Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and now LeSean McCoy. EJ Manuel’s draft status likely has the front office rooting for him, but aside from Manuel and Taylor’s difference in stature, both are similar players.
Buffalo’s quarterback situation is downright embarrassing at this point and if Taylor can prove capable of not only making big plays in the passing game, but making the correct checks at the line of scrimmage, he has a chance to earn the starting role for the 2015 Bills.