Very Deep Sleeper: Trent Taylor (Fantasy Football)
This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.
It’s easy for Trent Taylor to slide right under everyone’s noses. He’s (as of this writing) FantasyPros expert consensus #98 PPR WR for 2018…and I’m going to pitch you on his WR2-3 (PPR) potential.
If I asked you to name the top three rookie WRs in total receptions last season, before you knew where this article was going, you likely would have never identified Taylor as a possibility (he was #3 among 2017 rookies with 43 grabs). He’s an ignored rookie from 2017. He was overlooked in the 2017 NFL Draft (fifth-round pick) and ignored all along the way as his rookie season unfolded.
Much of that was due to WR prospects like him (smaller, quick, ‘hands’) typically getting the ‘Welker’ label and then never coming close to living up to it in the NFL. These types of WR prospects aren’t used by their team anything like the vaunted to Brady-to-Welker we all look for with these types of prospects every draft season.
The first reason/explanation that pops into our heads as to why you don’t see more Brady-to-Welker wide receivers in the NFL is because there’s only ONE Tom Brady. And there’s a lot of logic to that statement, as silly and simple as it sounds. No one has come close to Brady-to-Welker like Brady and Welker, except for Brady-to-Edelman, and when forced/needed – Brady-to-Amendola. Defenses know it’s coming, and they can’t stop it, mostly because of Brady.
Interestingly, that’s the reason why this time might be different’ with Trent Taylor. We’re all on board now that Jimmy Garoppolo is a fantastic quarterback. Perhaps one of the best in the league already, Garoppolo is more the key to this than Trent Taylor, but Taylor has his part in this cocktail mixture as well.
I could simply make the assumption that Garoppolo worked under Brady for years, and that he has seen how this works and maybe he’ll do the same with the 49ers. His experiences in New England could mean he’ll make heavy use of the ‘Welker-like’ option. That’s a logical leap, but let me back it up with some evidence.
When Jimmy Garoppolo drew two strong starts for the Patriots in 2016 after Brady was suspended for Deflategate, the WR who saw the most targets for him in his two beatdowns of the opposition was Julian Edelman, the Welker-role heir apparent for Brady. Edelman led all receivers in both Garoppolo 2016 starts with seven and 10 targets, converting those into seven catches in each game.
Two games is a small sample and a big leap, so to add to this theory I would also throw out there – in the 2017 preseason, Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target (working with second+ team WRs) – 6′0″/195 scrappy, great hands, UDFA WR Austin Carr. Carr worked a role somewhat similar to what Julian Edelman ran. Garoppolo is steeped in how to use underneath, workhorse WRs to a quarterback’s advantage – he’s learned from the master for years.
What happened when Garoppolo took over the 49ers job late last season? In five games, working with Taylor (who played about 30-50% of the offensive snaps each game) – a very solid 3.7 catches for 38.4 yards and 0.20 TDs per game with Jimmy G. – ‘solid’ considering Taylor’s somewhat limited time on the field. If you jumped Taylor’s snap count in games by 50% (a more normal snap count number for a starting WR)…and then did fuzzy math by taking his 2017 numbers with Garoppolo up by 50% as well, it would extrapolate out to 5.5 catches, 57.6 yards, and 0.30 TDs per game…or a robust 13.0 fantasy PPG in PPR.
Note that Taylor caught 17 of Garoppolo’s 20 throws to him the final five games, a fantastic 85% completion rate to a WR working a very complex part of the field/routes. What if Taylor is on the field more with Garoppolo in 2018 to build on these successes?
I think there’s a case to be made that Jimmy Garoppolo might be more than comfortable/experienced using a WR as an Edelman/Welker-type weapon than all NFL quarterbacks except Brady. Then the question is whether Trent Taylor capable of being ‘that guy’? ‘That guy’ in the sense that he could be Garoppolo’s ‘Welker’ and matter heavily for PPR – like a six+ catches a game stalwart.
Let’s make the case for Taylor’s talents. 5′8″/181 and has the Welker/Edelman profile…shorter in size, but so quick to get open on his routes. Taylor ran a so-so 4.63 40-time but was among the best at his NFL Combine with a 4.01 shuttle and 6.74 three-cone times. His 1.58 10-yard dash gives him the profile of a WR capable of blasting off the line and making cuts on a dime. All a receiver in this ‘Welker/Edelman’ role needs to do is get open quickly and an elite QB will throw successfully to him in a tight window. It’s pitch and catch.
The measurables are encouraging, but I would just add that my tape scouting says Taylor is ‘that guy’ with 136 catches, 1,803 yards, and 12 TDs in his final college season. He went to the Senior Bowl and I saw ‘that guy’ making cuts so sharp that the DBs had a difficult time covering him in one-on-one drills. Everyone and their brother howled ‘Welker’ when seeing Taylor work in Mobile. But ‘Welker’ has become a dirty word, a somewhat scouting negative, because they never matter unless they’re with Brady.
But Garoppolo may be the next best young QB there is in football compared to Tom Brady. Watching Taylor’s Week 4 of 2017 versus Arizona sold me. Kinda out of nowhere, Taylor had a 10-target game. A backup WR rookie had a 10-target game (after weeks of much lower targeting). Why?
I remember watching all of his snaps/targets that following week and was amazed. Taylor was in a war with Tyrann Mathieu, and Taylor was winning a lot of it merely because he was too good for Mathieu. As Taylor started burning Mathieu, Tyrann did his usual grabbing, cheap shots, etc., but Taylor kept his cool and just worked him on more routes than not. Taylor could’ve caught 10+ passes that game if it was ‘Brady’ and not ‘Hoyer’ at the helm.
Taylor was the same guy at LA Tech as he was at the Senior Bowl and into the 2017 regular NFL season – quick off the line, super-sharp cuts, tough, and reliable hands. If Garoppolo has Brady’s football DNA and Taylor has Welker/Edelman’s football DNA, then what could stop this?
Probably not the 2018 NFL Draft, because the 49ers did not draft anything better than Taylor. Dante Pettis is an outside receiver and more for the return game. Richie James has some of the same DNA/size/profile but works more outside. He’s more Tyreek Hill (in play style/gadgetry) than he is like Julian Edelman or Wes Welker.
It all comes down to this – does Kyle Shanahan want to push or feature this wrinkle in his game plan? He’s not done so in the past. Justin Hardy never took a big step up as a WR who profiled as an underneath ‘hands’ possibility in Atlanta. However, Shanahan has never had a Brady, so no reason for him to have an Edelman/Welker either. Now that he does have a ‘Brady’…will he activate a ‘Welker’?
Taylor was drafted for a reason…everyone knew he was ‘Welker-ish’, so something caught the 49ers’ attention. Shanahan couldn’t have known Garoppolo was coming to SF way back in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he had to figure his QB situation would improve one way or the other. He liked Taylor enough to draft him and then play him 30-50% of the snaps as a rookie.
One thing I would predict here is that we’ll know whether this cheap fantasy gamble was all in vain pretty quickly in 2018 – likely partway into the preseason or by Weeks 1-2. This is either happening or not with another year of Garoppolo and Shanahan working together.
I don’t think this will be a switch thrown during the middle 2018 season or in 2019-2020 as much as it will be obvious one way or the other in the 2018 preseason. You can cash out or tear up your lottery ticket pretty quickly on this one if you don’t see it right away. No holding on in agony for years.
What would the ‘best friend WR’ of one of the league’s best young QBs with a high-functioning offensive-minded head coach be worth in fantasy? That’s the upside potential here. Not much downside for the price today.
Look for more of my team’s NFL Draft scouting reports, measurables, and weekly updated dynasty rookie rankings before and after the NFL Draft, right up to the beginning of the new NFL season at College Football Metrics. See our NFL/fantasy analysis all year ’round at Fantasy Football Metrics.