No longer overlooked, Tyrod Taylor gives NFL something to talk about

Three things we didn't know about Tyrod Taylor (1:24)

Bills QB Tyrod Taylor tells Lindsay Czarniak three things about himself that people don't know. (1:24)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Playmaker. Dual threat. Complete quarterback.

Those are just some of the terms that have been used to describe Tyrod Taylor since coach Rex Ryan named him the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback late last month.

So if Taylor is that talented, why haven't people been talking about him until now?

Taylor, who threw a 51-yard touchdown pass during a season-opening victory over Indianapolis, is set to make his second career start Sunday when the Bills host the New England Patriots in a highly anticipated game between AFC East rivals. The consensus from those who have seen Taylor play is he is the NFL's version of a hidden gem, an undersized quarterback who fell through the cracks but has the potential to give defenses nightmares.

"We've always felt like Tyrod [is a great player]," John Harbaugh, Taylor's coach with the Baltimore Ravens for four seasons, said this week. "We've said it many times, and some agree, and some didn't. Some in this circle agreed and some didn't. Tyrod, we always felt like, could play, and it's good to see him proving it."

Taylor, 26, might have been an unknown NFL commodity as recently as last season, but that was hardly the case in 2006 when ESPN ranked him as the third-best high school quarterback in the nation behind Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett. Taylor played at Hampton High School in Virginia -- about a 15-minute drive from Warwick High School in Newport News, where Michael Vick starred nearly a decade earlier -- and, like Vick, committed to Virginia Tech.

It was in Blacksburg, Virginia, where Taylor was thrown quickly into the fray. He started five games as a freshman and ended his career with Virginia Tech's most quarterback wins in addition to setting school records in just about every other quarterback statistic.

Ask former Hokies offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring to pick one play that defines Taylor's tenure at Virginia Tech, and he'll tell you it was a nine-second scramble followed by an 11-yard, game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the Hokies' 16-15 win over Nebraska in 2009.

"[Ndamukong] Suh was chasing him all over the field, as well as three quarters of the Nebraska defense, I think," Stinespring said this week. "He somehow maintained this tremendous composure back there, began scrambling, reversing the field and found Dyrell Roberts in the back of the end zone as Suh was getting ready to hit him for a touchdown pass that in essence won the game.

"It was a phenomenal play, it was critical crunch time where certain people live for that moment. His whole life, growing up in Hampton, Virginia, I think every day he's out in the backyard playing football making that play, dreaming of making that play -- and he did. The whole nine yards, that's who he is -- wanting to be in that moment, hoping to be in that moment, preparing to be in that moment."

Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham was part of a Florida State team -- quarterbacked by EJ Manuel, a longtime friend of Taylor and a former first-round pick who Taylor beat out this summer for the Bills' job -- that lost to the Hokies in the 2010 ACC championship game. Taylor threw three touchdown passes and scrambled for a score in a 44-33 victory.

"He beat us by himself. He beat us by himself, literally," Bradham said this week. "He was throwing strikes, man. He beat us by himself. His ability to throw on the run is unbelievable. And that's honestly how he beat us. He was getting pressured, but he's so mobile and he was just making everybody miss. All of our defensive linemen were missing. He would slide out and deliver it on the strike.

"So we had to deal with that the whole game. We were trying to adjust, but it was kind of hard. ... He's a complete quarterback. I'm not sure so many people realize how complete he is, as far as a pocket passer. He's everything you want as a mobile passer. So you have to adjust to both worlds with him."

Taylor wasn't on the national radar entering the 2011 draft. He was the 11th quarterback to come off the board, nearly two days after Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder walked onto the stage in the first round.

Why did Taylor have to wait until the sixth round? One NFL personnel director said this week the primary issue was Taylor's height -- he measured less than 6-foot-1 at the NFL combine -- and that his college production was steady but did not necessarily make him a "standout" prospect.

New York Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley, who played with Taylor at Virginia Tech, doesn't think Taylor's height should have affected his draft stock. "You don't measure a player [based] on size when it comes to football," he said. "It is about heart and about will and about understanding the game."

Added Miami Dolphins defensive tackle A.J. Francis, who played against Taylor while in college at Maryland: "People get overlooked [due to size and measurables]. There's a lot of 6-5, 220-pound absolute bums that play quarterback. Do you know what I'm saying? I'd rather have a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor who makes things happen than a guy who is the prototype but is an absolute garbage quarterback."

Taylor was taken 180th overall by the Ravens, who had selected Joe Flacco with the 18th overall pick three years earlier. Flacco, now in his eighth NFL season, has yet to miss a game. He's as durable as quarterbacks come -- and a Super Bowl MVP -- which left little opportunity for Taylor to see the field.

"He was sitting behind a hell of a quarterback in Flacco," Hosley said.

Taylor attempted one pass as a rookie and didn't see significant regular-season action until the 2012 season finale when he went 15-for-25 passing for 149 yards. That proved to be Taylor's most extensive action of his Ravens career, yet he was able to catch the eye of then-New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who wanted to trade for him.

"He brought it up a number of times," then-Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, now in the same position with the Bills, said this week. "It wasn't the right time, it wasn't the right situation."

Taylor's rookie contract, which paid him a relatively modest $2.155 million over four years, expired in March. The Ravens offered him a chance to return, which he respectfully declined in order to find a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere.

The Denver Broncos, who had just hired former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as their coach, also called, as did Ryan and the Bills. The Broncos were offering more than the Bills, a source said, but Taylor wasn't going to see the field there as long as Peyton Manning was in town.

Told he had a chance to earn the starting job in Buffalo, Taylor accepted a three-year contract with the Bills that included little guaranteed money -- just $1.15 million -- but a chance to earn $7 million over the first two years and have the third year void if he became the starter.

Shortly after signing with the Bills, Taylor walked into quarterback coach's David Lee's office. Lee, who began his coaching career in the college ranks in the mid-1970s, quizzed Taylor on some of the offense's more complex formations. Taylor nailed them.

"Do you have a photographic memory?" Lee asked Taylor.

"I do, coach," Taylor responded.

What clicked in the classroom didn't immediately translate onto the practice field in May and June. Lee was concerned about Taylor's accuracy, especially while still in the pocket.

"I was like, 'Wow, he throws better outside [the pocket] than he does inside,'" Lee recalled last week.

Taylor entered training camp in a three-way quarterback competition with Manuel, who was trying to bounce back after being benched early last season, and veteran Matt Cassel, who was a disaster in spring practices as he worked his way back from a foot injury.

As Manuel stumbled early in training camp and was eventually relegated to mostly third-team work, it became increasingly clear the Bills' starting job would come down to Taylor or Cassel. Both quarterbacks avoided interceptions and other critical mistakes in practices, showing similar ball security in preseason games.

"He's everything you want in a quarterback," Bradham said of Taylor. "He never turns the ball over in practice. So when you got a quarterback like that, he takes care of the ball. His passing accuracy, and then what he can do with his feet is unbelievable."

It's Taylor's abilities to make "magic" with his legs -- as Ryan put it after one preseason contest -- that eventually won him the job over Cassel, who took a pay cut to serve as the Bills' No. 2 quarterback.

"Mike Vick 2.0 some people call him," Bradham said of Taylor. "He's dynamic, man. Game-changer."

The Bills' defensive coaches can respect the multifaceted challenges posed by Taylor, who worked with Vick coming out of college and has also trained with San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, a similarly mobile quarterback.

"When you can throw the football as well as he can throw the football and when you can run as well as he can, improvising and creating plays with your legs, it makes it tough," Thurman said. "Because usually in pro football, you don't really plan on having to stop the quarterback. But [what] he forces you to do is play more 11-on-11 football, which can be difficult at times."

Francis wasn't surprised by the Bills' decision to tap Taylor as their starter, recalling "one of the most embarrassing moments" of his football career -- trying to tackle Taylor in college.

"I just came through free on a blitz and I had a blindside shot on him. He turned around at the last second and shook the piss out of me," Francis recalled. "I didn't touch him at all. He shook the absolute piss out of me. It was third-and-12 and he scrambled for a first down. He got a 15-yard run."

Taylor has already shown that same shake-and-bake ability with the Bills, scrambling for 31 yards on a third-and-4 against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. But he likely wouldn't have been in the game if he hadn't improved his accuracy from months earlier.

"I thought Tyrod moved the chains every time that he was in there [in the preseason]," Lee said. "He showed us that he can throw from the pocket. We were looking for that.

"So that's not an issue anymore."

Sunday's game against the Patriots will present a new set of challenges for Taylor, who must contend with four-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Belichick and the rising expectations of a fan base energized by Ryan's confidence and Taylor's explosiveness.

The spotlight that now shines on Taylor, who was an NFL unknown a year ago, might be a surprise to some but not those who know him best.

"Some of the things we all know about Tyrod -- we understand the success he's had at the high school level, the success he's had at the college level -- it didn't come by chance and just ability and God-given talent," Stinespring said. "He is an extremely hard worker with attention to detail, driven.

"He's constantly working to better himself and prepare himself for this opportunity, so no, none of this has surprised any of us whatsoever, including myself. We're just really excited for him and proud of him."

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley, ESPN college football reporter Heather Dinich, ESPN New York writer Ohm Youngmisuk and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker contributed to this story.