2020 NFL Draft: Alex Taylor is the top offensive tackle sleeper

Every year the NFL Draft yields an enormous sleeper in the late rounds. This year, that player will be South Carolina State's Alex Taylor.

Every NFL draft class seems to possess some sort of spectacle. Whether it’s a former basketball star taking his talents from the hardwood to the gridiron. Or perhaps a huge, athletic freak who forces scouts to salivate at the thought of his potential. What if I told you there was a player who matched both storylines? South Carolina State’s Alex Taylor is that guy.

Basketball and bloodlines

A two-star recruit out of Moncks Corner, South Carolina, Taylor moved a bit north after committing to Appalachian State. He spent a few years in Boone which included a redshirt season. Taylor served as the backup to Colby Gossett, a sixth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Wanting to actually get out onto the field, Taylor decided to transfer.

Taking his talents to South Carolina State, it didn’t take long for Taylor to emerge as an impact player along the offensive line for the Bulldogs. While he originally planned to go back to basketball where he made a few appearances, they couldn’t keep him off the football field. Last season he was named third-team All-MEAC. Taylor then entered this year as the top tackle on the MEAC Preseason All-American team.

Along with his dominant high school basketball background, Taylor also possesses intriguing bloodlines. His father Patrick played football at Presbyterian. His cousin Joe Hamilton played at Georgia Tech and went on to be drafted in the seventh round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Most notably, his uncle Pierson Prioleau enjoyed a long career in the NFL which included a Super Bowl ring.

Dominating the competition 

Typically when observing prospects from small schools, they have to jump off the tape. It shouldn’t take more than a few snaps before they make their presence known. In the case of Alex Taylor, that’s precisely how it goes.

For starters, Taylor would be easy to spot even on an NFL field. He stands tall at 6’9” and has been listed between 305-310 pounds. The mammoth is more than just size, however. It’s rare to see, but Taylor is a human highlight reel of an offensive lineman.

Routinely he wins reps with emphasis. At times Taylor looks like Michael Oher in The Blindside as he topples over opponents and drives them way off the ball. For such a big lineman, naturally, there would lie concerns regarding leverage. However, that comes easy for Taylor. He’s a natural knee bender and does a tremendous job of getting underneath his opponent with tons of power on engagement.

Not to sound cliche, but Taylor is the epitome of a dancing bear. The size is obvious, but where Taylor really impresses is in his movement skills. He sinks well in his hips and moves around the arch with ease. Taylor has shown progression in his pass sets with quickness and depth in his kick slide. His length is one of his best attributes which Taylor uses to his advantage time and time again.

The flashes he’s shown as a pass protector are mightily encouraging. However, he’s even more dominant as a run blocker. It all starts with leverage for Taylor in the ground game. Once he engages his opponent and gets a grip on them, the clamps are turned on. Taylor has exceptional leg drive and holds his form while pushing defenders away from the play. His combination of power and reach makes it easy to open running lanes.

As polished as Taylor may be for a guy who’s only played football for about four or five years, of course, he’s not a finished product. You see Taylor struggle when reacting inside to delayed blitzes. Developing an inside power step would do wonders for his game and that’s something that should come with time and more experience. Taylor has also shown inconsistent grip strength and hand usage.

Despite the rawness in terms of experience, Taylor possesses the unmatched size and physical tools. He’s much further along than you’d expect for a player who has only had football as their sole focus for a few years. Taylor has absolutely dominated the competition over these past two seasons and has played his way to being an NFL Draft pick.

2020 NFL Draft status

Through all of the HBCU/FCS prospects I’ve evaluated thus far, Alex Taylor is the best I’ve seen and has the best chance of getting drafted. Size and athleticism will always draw scouts. However, when you have a quality, improving skillset to go along with that, the sky is the limit.

NFL scouts are sure to have caught wind of Taylor by now. In what is viewed to be a top-heavy offensive line class, Taylor will be a prime project pick in the mid-late rounds. I’d love to see him get a chance to perform at the Senior Bowl this winter and compete against some of the best college football has to offer. That could do wonders for his draft stock and boost his name recognition. Regardless, Taylor is sure to get an invite to some post-season All-Star game.

The South Carolina State Bulldogs have produced a couple of high-end NFL players in recent years. We all know of Darius Leonard’s breakout last year en route to being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. A couple of years prior, Javon Hargave was drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s emerged as one of the league’s most underrated defensive linemen. Now it’s Alex Taylor’s turn to rep the program.

The Moncks Corner native is set to be the first offensive linemen drafted from South Carolina State since Johnny Culbreath in 2011. Taylor is incredibly gifted and talented. He has a strong chance to become the best offensive linemen to ever come out of South Carolina State. As it currently stands, I have a fourth-round grade on Taylor with a lot of room to grow.

Jonathan Valencia is a writer for PFN covering the NFL Draft. You can follow him @JonValenciaPFN on Twitter.

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