Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor has no interest in playing wide receiver or being a return man at the NFL level, as he's solely focused on playing quarterback. (Chuck Burton/AP)
Tomorrow is the biggest interview of Tyrod Taylor's life, but not even the world's leading body-language expert would know it when watching the Virginia Tech quarterback make his way through the Crown Plaza on a Saturday night in Indianapolis.
A few minutes earlier, I met with his agent, Adisa Bakari, who represents the likes of running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Matt Forte and believes Taylor has a bright future making the transition from Saturday to Sunday. However, despite the fact that Taylor won more games than any signal caller in Hokies history and is that school's career leader in yards passing and total offense, many outlets don't even have him in the top 10 at his position here at the annual Scouting Combine.
Even worse, because he's only 6-1, because he's really fast and -- let's just be honest here -- because he's black, some coaches, scouts and, of course, media wonder if he'd be better off playing wide receiver or returning kicks.
If any of this was bothering Taylor, I certainly couldn't tell. He walked into the room while I was shooting the breeze with Bakari and his team, wearing his prospect-issued Under Armour sweats and casually sipping from a bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade. Then, after introducing ourselves and shaking hands, we adjourned to the next open table and talked for about 20 minutes.
A state champion at Hampton High School in Hampton, Virginia, Taylor wasn't recruited as the proverbial "athlete," even if he was given triple duty at quarterback, safety and kick returner as a prepster.
"It was quarterback," he said. "That was the main thing. I had over 60 scholarships. All of the SEC, all of the ACC, big schools throughout everywhere. Every team that I was recruited for was quarterback. I was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, I think 23 on the top-100 board, No. 3 at overall position."
He narrowed it down to two programs, eventually choosing Virginia Tech over Florida, the same university that produced a former No. 1-overall pick under center and this past season's Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL: Michael Vick.
|"It was quarterback. That was the main thing. I had over 60 scholarships. All of the SEC, all of the ACC. Every team that I was recruited for was quarterback."|
"He's a friend of mine," said Taylor. "We talk football, off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff. We talk about coverages and things like that, using my ability, what I can do with the football to better myself against different coverages, even breaking down as far as running. We're from the same area. I know him. I talk to him often."
Bakari previously handed me a booklet -- it weighed about the same as your standard copy of "War and Peace" -- containing A-to-Z information on Taylor and all of his draft prospects, which include Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter. Of the 19 pages dedicated to Taylor, a casual read reveals that he threw more touchdowns and fewer interceptions in 2010 than Blaine Gabbert of Missouri and Jake Locker of Washington, both of whom Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said Sunday have "first-round talent." Additionally, Taylor's TD-to-INT ratio of 33-to-9 his last two seasons was much more impressive than Vick's during his two-year stint as a starter: 20-to-13.
Nevertheless, when the college all-star games were filling out their rosters in January, Taylor got snubbed for the Senior Bowl in Mobile and instead went to Orlando for the less-prestigious East-West Shrine Game.
"The Shrine Game was a great experience," he said. "I had the talent to be in the Senior Bowl, especially when I was the ACC Player of the Year and they took another ACC guy (Florida State's Christian Ponder), which I felt disrespected. But that's how it goes sometimes. It doesn't always play your way. But I took the best of the situation and made the best of what I had. And, like I said, I had a great week at the East-West Shrine Game. I feel I played well in the game. At that time, I used it as motivation to go out and perform well at the East-West Shrine Game."
It was about this time when he started hearing the chatter about him possibly being better off catching passes instead of throwing them, although that news wasn't delivered by any of the 32 NFL franchises.
"I heard it from the media before any team," said Taylor. "That was the big thing about it that kind of surprised me. But my answer to that would be: I'm a quarterback. What I want to play is quarterback, but, at the same time, I'm a competitor and love to win, so whatever it takes to help the team, then that's what I'll do."
That last comment, the one containing "whatever it takes" and "help the team," I didn't buy it, not from someone that so clearly believes with every fabric of his being that he's a quarterback -- his next comment confirmed my hunch.
"I did make it clear that I'm a quarterback," he said. "I just feel that my ability running and things like that you shouldn't use against me, especially when defenses and stuff are getting faster. You've got guys on the defensive side that are running 4.5s. You need a guy that can move the pocket and keep the play alive."
We'll have a better idea if he's right Sunday, when Taylor gets to put his skills on display for all the talent evaluators at Lucas Oil Stadium.
As a member of the Professional Football Writers of America, I was fortunate enough to be one of the chosen few allowed into the facility Sunday to watch the quarterbacks and wide receivers work out at the Scouting Combine.
There were two sessions, with the prospects broken up alphabetically, so Taylor worked out that afternoon alongside the likes of Ponder, his aforementioned ACC nemesis, and the Heisman Trophy winner, Auburn's Cam Newton. Needless to say, most every pair of eyes gravitated toward Newton, as the 6-5, 248-pounder is the X factor in this draft and attracted a crowd during his media interview that could have filled a movie theater -- Taylor, meanwhile, spoke to maybe half a dozen reporters.
The workout got started in fine fashion for Taylor, as his time of 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash was faster than any other quarterback, and he even beat the consensus top receiver on the board, Georgia's A.J. Green (4.50).
Then it came time to throw the football, initially firing to his left. First up was the quick slant. Three attempts, three completions. Next, the down-and-out. Again, three throws, three catches. Same with both the down-and-in and the fly route -- the first was a shade underthrown and the second a bit behind his target, but the third fly was perfect. Once it was time to switch sides and throw to his right, he was already 12-for-12. On the other hand, Newton was overthrowing everyone in sight and clapping his hands in frustration repeatedly. But Taylor wasn't celebrating. From my vantage point, he was as relaxed as any of the QBs on the field.
|"Today was a good day. I think I impressed some teams. I got a chance to fly back on the plane with some teams and got good feedback from them."|
Another series of down-and-outs. The first one was behind his target but still caught. Same with the second. And then finally a misfire, as he airmailed the third. Asked to throw two more down-and-outs to make sure all the receivers got enough reps, Taylor put both of them on the money. Next was the hook. No problem -- three for three. The final test was by far the hardest, the post-corner route, and he only completed one of the three. One could have been classified as a drop, but another one was well overthrown. Still, by my count, he connected on 20 of his 23 passes. Nobody else appeared to be anywhere near that high of a completion percentage.
Unlike Ricky Stanzi of Iowa, who is rated higher but was bouncing balls all over the turf, Taylor likely got a full night's rest once he put his head on his own pillow again.
"Today was a good day," he told me via text message after he returned home. "I think I impressed some teams. I got a chance to fly back on the plane with some teams and got good feedback from them. But the overall combine experience was fun, and I enjoyed competing with everyone."
However, I couldn't help but notice that he wasn't throwing as hard as some of the other passers, maybe 90 percent of what he's capable, so I felt compelled to ask him for an honest answer to that question.
"Some of the balls had a different grip on them," admitted Taylor, "so I had to adjust to those sometimes, causing me not to get everything on it."
What remains to be seen is if NFL teams now have a different grip on whether or not he can indeed play quarterback at the game's highest level. The next test? Virginia Tech's Pro Day, March 17 in Blacksburg.
CLICK HERE to see a video segment I did Sunday with regard to the quarterback workouts at the Scouting Combine, which includes a nugget about Taylor.
|John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|