32 for 32: In Defense of Tyrod Taylor
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Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
One of my favorite things about fantasy football is how it can separate us from the constraints of typical fandom and diversify our rooting interests. As a Patriots fan (yeah, yeah, save it), I’m supposed to detest all remaining facets of the AFC East, but during Tyrod Taylor’s tenure as a Buffalo Bill, I could not help but love him. And in true Patriots fashion I made the decision to forego the rules — of fandom — in order to defend Tyrod as a fantasy gem and explain why he deserves a fair shake with his new team in Cleveland.
NOT BAD IN BUFFALO
What makes Tyrod’s case particularly interesting to me is how he is perennially underrated. When reviewing his last three positional finishes, we’ll see that Tyrod has outperformed his offseason ADP in each of those three seasons:
- 2017: 17th ADP to QB16
- 2016: 20th ADP to QB8
- 2015: Undrafted to QB16
Taylor’s three years in Buffalo were a bit of a mixed bag, depending on your perspective, but there’s no denying that he was a dependable QB2 during that time. He did this despite team management taking, what felt like, every opportunity to undermine his chances for success. The shining example of this being when the Bills traded away Sammy Watkins with less than a month remaining before the start of the NFL regular season and brought in yet-to-prove-himself Jordan Matthews as a replacement option. The Bills would eventually add Kelvin Benjamin at the trade deadline, but injury and conditioning concerns during the 2017 offseason essentially killed any excitement that the move could’ve had for Taylor.
In terms of receiving options in general, things were always a bit woeful. Based on targets, Tyrod’s top-three receiving options missed a combined 20 games during his tenure in Buffalo. Combine that with the bizarrely-timed Sammy Watkins deal, and the additional departures of Robert Woods and Chris Hogan, and it’s no wonder things never really got going through the air.
Despite Buffalo’s revolving door philosophy on the offensive side of the ball, Taylor still posted respectable fantasy numbers for his owners. Among QBs who started 13 or more games those seasons, Taylor averaged out as the 24th-ranked QB in terms of passing attempts (1,237 total). And like any good low-volume, game manager-type QB, Taylor made the best of the situation and limited his interception rate to just 1.33 percent over the same time period.
What really helped Taylor’s cause these past three seasons was the damage he did as a rusher. Since 2015, he has rushed for 1,575 yards, on 283 attempts, and scored 14 times.
All of this culminated in Taylor posting 35 top-20 finishes (a number higher than the likes of Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, and Andy Dalton), a points per game rank of 12, and a total points rank of 12. It may have not been pretty, or traditional, but Taylor flat out produced as a solid QB2 between 2015 and 2017.
MOVING ON UP (TO CLEVELAND?)
The day was March 10, 2018. I had “volunteered” to help my wife run a table at a Mom-2-Mom sale and was bored out of my mind. I was on an island among a sea of screaming children and under-caffeinated adults. It was a bleak Saturday in metro-Detroit. Then, just when things looked their darkest, I saw the news that Taylor had been traded from a team that didn’t love him to another that obviously would.
Suddenly, Taylor was leading an offense that featured Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, David Njoku, and pass-catching specialist Duke Johnson. Our QB2 savior was on a new team, with new weapons, and the Browns even had assets to spare in the form of multiple picks in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. TyGoat fans rejoiced.
Just over a month later, however, the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Now, despite late-June reports that the Browns are dedicated to Tyrod as the team’s starting quarterback, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, Mayfield is given the opportunity to lead the Browns offense.
TYROD DESERVES AN HONEST SHOT
I’m of the belief that NFL teams don’t spend first-round draft capital on quarterbacks with any intention of having them marinate for a few years as they “learn the game.” And given Cleveland’s history with the position, and Hue Jackson’s willingness to start and bench QBs almost on a whim, I’m not liking how things look for Tyrod in the long-term. But this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get his shot.
In April, Derrik Klassen broke down how Browns OC Todd Haley will be able to leverage Tyrod’s skill set by featuring RPO concepts alongside deep-passing and empty-set schemes. An offensive attack that expands the field horizontally and plays into Taylor’s strength as a runner, for when things break down, is a slam-dunk of a plan. A quicker, more horizontal passing attack will also serve him well in the sack department. Perhaps the biggest statistical knock on Taylor is that he had a 9.1 percent sack rate while in Buffalo. A change in offensive schemes will make the chances of him duplicating that sack rate as absurd as Deshaun Watson repeating his 2017 TD rate of 9.3 percent.
This approach on offense also bodes well for Jarvis Landry who brings in a 6.70 average depth of target (aDOT) from his past three seasons. Landry’s aDOT shows that he’s accustomed to operating on a different level (vertically speaking) than WRs Taylor worked with in Buffalo. Kelvin Benjamin (11.95), Robert Woods (10.70), and Chris Hogan (13.10) all had an aDOT considerably different than Landry’s when they worked briefly with Taylor in Buffalo.
The more reception-apt Duke Johnson should serve a great dump-off option for Taylor, particularly early in the season as the Browns’ new-look offense finds its rhythm, when compared against former teammate LeSean McCoy. Since 2015, Johnson has gone 204/155/1,616 in the reception department compared to McCoy’s 147/114/990. While their skill sets are different, I expect Johnson to be the key factor keeping Taylor out of the sack column, while Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde to the dirty work on the ground.
Tyrod Taylor’s 2QB redraft ADP of 154 (31st among QBs) is straight-up bizarre. As of June, he is behind QBs like Baker Mayfield, Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Jackson, and Sam Darnold. In dynasty, his ADP fares slightly better (133) but he is still as an absolute steal given what his opportunity cost is. Even if you ignore every football reason discussed above, Taylor is a starting QB in the NFL but is being drafted as if he’s a rookie playing behind Tom Brady circa 2011. As far as starting QBs go, he’s basically free and this should be exploited.
There are a lot of things looking up for Tyrod Taylor in 2018. A new offensive scheme, a revamped supporting cast, and just a change of scenery in general should have fans and fantasy players excited for the season to come. Yes, the 6-foot-1 shadow of Baker Mayfield is looming over his shoulder but when Taylor becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019 it’s very possible that the next place he lands is his last — and he’ll finally get the chance he deserves.
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