Two of Fanball’s favorite receiver trends met at the crossroads of Travis Taylor’s brief NFL career last season, and the results were… well, mixed.
In his third pro season—and you know how Fanball feels about third-year receivers—Taylor got off to a sluggish start, with just 17 catches and 219 yards through the first six games.
Then, belying the recent tradition of receivers who matriculated at the University of Florida, Taylor closed with a flourish, scoring six times and averaging 65 yards per game over the final 10 contests.
Was the 10th overall pick from the 2000 draft simply maturing at a pace not uncommon for his position? Was Taylor breaking the Gator wideout jinx that has claimed the likes of Jacquez Green, Reidel Anthony, and Travis McGriff before him? Or was he handcuffed by Chris Redman’s uneven quarterbacking and unshackled when Jeff Blake took over?
The easy way out would be to chalk Taylor’s production up to the change in quarterback, note that Blake is gone and Redman or rookie Kyle Boller will start in Baltimore, and watch the former U of F standout free-fall down your draft sheet.
That might be a mistake.
For starters, Taylor will have a little more help in the Ravens receiving corps this year. Tight end Todd Heap is one of the top pass-catchers at his position, and defenses will have to account for him in their coverage. Brian Billick’s offense lacked a second downfield option last season, a problem addressed with the offseason signings of Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson.
Then there’s the quarterback situation. Blake left for Arizona via free agency, and the Ravens considered several options during the offseason. In the end, the club was left with Redman—until they traded next year’s first-round pick and selected Boller 19th overall this year.
Rarely do rookie quarterbacks do anything more than hold a clipboard and smile real purdy during their first season, and that’s especially true from a fantasy perspective. But the strong-armed Boller was particularly impressive in summer minicamps—so impressive, in fact, that Billick said the starting job was wide open entering training camp.
This, of course, assumes Boller signs on time. The two parties weren’t exactly close on a deal, with Boller’s agent seeking a contract similar to that Chad Pennington received as the 18th overall selection in 2000 and the Ravens offering something more along the lines of what Patrick Ramsey got as the 32nd pick last year.
Billick said that he wasn’t trying to threaten Boller into signing, but he did say the rookie would have to be at camp from Day One or else the competition would essentially be over.
Boller’s strong-armed style more closely resembles that of Blake, and Billick’s track record at guiding quarterbacks through his system—think Randall Cunningham with the Vikings—alleviates many of the worries associated with a rookie starter at quarterback. Clearly, such a move would bode well for Taylor.
However, don’t discount Taylor even if Redman is Baltimore’s starter, by default or otherwise. At least some of Redman’s failure to click with Taylor can be attributed to the back problems that eventually ended Redman’s year and necessitated offseason surgery.
Redman’s arm is above average, though he doesn’t quite possess the cannon Boller has, and if the surgery took care of his back woes he’ll be an upgrade over the Redman you saw early last season.
And that Redman/Blake split from last season is deceiving from another perspective. In the first six games—all Redman starts—the Ravens faced three of the top four pass defenses in the NFL and only one (#17 Denver) in the bottom half of the league. In the final 10 games, Jeff Blake saw exactly two top-10 pass coverage units—#8 Miami and #10 Houston.
The moral of the story is, you can’t simply Taylor’s production based on the assumption that Redman is a subpar quarterback. And even if Bollar gets the job, don’t dismay; Billick will give him a basic offense to run—one that in all likelihood will include plenty of routes designed to go to the team’s primary receiver.
That leaves Taylor as the number-one receiver on a team that faces a schedule that resembles the last 10 games of 2003 in its lack of stout pass coverage. Only Miami, Baltimore’s opponent in week 11, sports a top-10 pass defense.
Based on that information, it wouldn’t be unlikely to see Taylor replicate his second half success in 2003, as opposed to his first-half failures. That translates into 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns—numbers that would squelch the Florida receiver jinx and make Taylor a viable fantasy find.