Seahawks hope Darrell Taylor joins list of trade-up success stories

Darrell Taylor's NFL draft profile (0:49)

Check out the highlights from former Tennessee DE Darrell Taylor. (0:49)

A No. 1 wide receiver in Tyler Lockett and a promising No. 2 in DK Metcalf.

A pair of starting defensive tackles in Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson.

An All-Pro punter in Michael Dickson.

What those five have in common: They were all players the Seattle Seahawks -- a team known for trading back in the draft -- moved up to select.

They need that trend of trade-up success to continue with defensive end Darrell Taylor. Just consider how badly they could use a strong rookie season from their second-round pick to improve what was one of the NFL's least effective pass rushes in 2019, especially now that the best chance of a reunion with Jadeveon Clowney has come and gone.

That might help explain why the Seahawks were so eager to move up for Taylor on Day 2 after taking linebacker Jordyn Brooks at No. 27 the night before. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll both said Taylor was in consideration with their first-round pick. After taking Brooks instead, they turned their focus to Taylor and got their man by moving up 11 spots -- from No. 59 to 48 -- in a trade with the New York Jets.

"From the get-go ... we were on it trying to move the whole way," Schneider said. "We were trying to go up pretty high to get him. Like I said, we considered taking him (in round one)."

To be sure, the Seahawks have had their share of draft whiffs since 2013. But most of their best picks since then were players Seattle moved up to take.

Lockett (third round, 2015) has become Russell Wilson's top target and one of the league's best deep threats. He was also a first-team All-Pro selection as a kick returner his rookie season. Reed (second round, 2016) has 47 starts and a 10.5-sack season on his resume. He just got a two-year, $23 million deal to return to Seattle while Jefferson (fifth round, 2016) got a two-year, $13.75 million deal from the Buffalo Bills after starting 24 games over the past two seasons in Seattle. Dickson (fifth round, 2018) was a first-team All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Metcalf caught 58 passes last season, tied for second among rookies in 2019 and second most by a rookie in club history.

Taylor is one of five other players the Seahawks have traded up to draft under Schneider and Carroll. Defensive tackle Jesse Williams (fifth round, 2013) never played a regular-season down due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The jury is still out on linebacker Cody Barton (third round, 2019) and wide receiver John Ursua (seventh round, 2019). Seattle made a second trade up this year for tight end/wide receiver Stephen Sullivan (seventh round).

Of the five they've hit on, all but Jefferson made an impact right away.

Taylor will have a chance to do the same, most likely as part of a rotation with veteran Benson Mayowa and fifth-round pick Alton Robinson. The Seahawks view Taylor (6-foot-4, 267 pounds) as a typical Leo, which is the smaller and more athletic of the two ends in Carroll's defense. Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark filled that role in past seasons.

"He's exactly that," Carroll said. "He's right in that mold. The height, weight, speed thing is there. His aggressiveness is there. His flexibility, his savvy for turning the corner and doing the things that that position calls for, the power he has to finish, he's got speed to power moves and there's enough ability there for him to do some dropping the few times that we do that ... We thought he was an absolute in-the-pocket guy for us. It was an easy evaluation in that regard, so we're very happy to get him and we know he's going to have a chance to contribute early."

The Seahawks brought Taylor in for a pre-draft visit before the NFL shut those down due to the coronavirus pandemic. That gave them a second look at Taylor's medicals and a degree of reassurance about his recovery from January surgery for a stress fracture in his fibula that he played through last season at Tennessee. They also saw him work out on video after he didn't participate at the combine.

Among players with a minimum of 250 pass-rush snaps, Taylor led the SEC with a 16.5% pressure rate last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He had 19.5 sacks over his final three college seasons, including eight as a junior and 8.5 as a senior. That made him one of eight FBS players with at least eight sacks in each of the past two seasons.

"He's played against such good competition and he really has rushed against the best tackles and had that opportunity," Carroll said. "The biggest challenge is the level of play [in the NFL] is so much more consistent and the style of players and the size of the guys that he'll play consistently. But he's gone up against the best, so that adds to the ability to evaluate him clearly."

Getting eight sacks in the SEC is one thing. Recent history shows that doing it as an NFL rookie is rare, especially for someone drafted where Taylor was. Only 16 rookies have hit that number over the past 10 seasons, including Bruce Irvin in 2012 after Seattle chose him No. 15 overall. Of those 16, 10 were drafted in the first half of the first round.

Logically, a condensed offseason program would make it that much harder for Taylor or any rookie to make a big impact. But something else the Seahawks say they gleaned from Taylor's visit was an understanding of the game that was evident in the way he explained the Volunteers' defensive scheme and how he handled duties that went beyond what an edge-rusher normally does. That was a focus of the Seahawks across the board, to identify the prospects who could contribute right away without needing, in Schneider's words, "a ton of hand-holding."

"He just handled himself very well and was excited to be there," Schneider said. " ... He just did a great job. He was just a very impressive young man with an edge, and he's got a chip and he's mad that he didn’t have a better season. This guy, who knows if he's healthy this [past] year where we're talking about drafting him."