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Heaps: Why moving Darrell Taylor to SAM LB may be best for Seahawks

2020 draft pick Darrell Taylor could switch positions for 2021 despite not playing last year. (Getty)

The Seahawks may have made just three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, but it’s worth remembering that another player Seattle has drafted will make his NFL debut in 2021 as well. That would be 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor.

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Entering the 2020 draft, the Seahawks’ top need was pass rush. In 2019, Seattle tallied only 28 sacks, which was tied for the second-fewest in the NFL that year.

To improve at getting after the quarterback last offseason, the Seahawks acquired pass-rushing safety Jamal Adams via trade as well as defensive end Benson Mayowa. The Seahawks also signed their former first-round pick in Bruce Irvin, who played both linebacker and defensive end, drafted Taylor in the second round and fellow defensive end Alton Robinson in the fifth round.

Those moves had differing results.

Mayowa was third on the Seahawks in sacks in 2020 with six and Robinson was second in the NFL in sacks by a rookie with four. Adams led Seattle with 9.5 sacks in 12 games, which set an NFL single-season record for sacks by a defensive back.

Meanwhile, Irvin played in only two games before tearing his ACL and Taylor missed his entire rookie campaign with a shin injury.

Now entering 2021, Taylor is expected to be fully healthy and ready to go for Seattle. But now there’s a question of where he will play.

Taylor was drafted as a defensive end, but in his post-2021 NFL Draft press conference, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said that the team is open to playing the “versatile” Taylor at the strongside (SAM) linebacker spot, which was Irvin’s role for many years.

In his brief playing time in 2020, Irvin played SAM linebacker on early downs before moving down to the line of scrimmage on third downs or more obvious passing situations to rush the quarterback. After Irvin tore his ACL in Week 2, the Seahawks moved veteran weakside (WILL) linebacker K.J. Wright to SAM and played 2020 first-round pick Jordyn Brooks at WILL. Wright is currently unsigned and it’s unclear if he will be back in Seattle for 2021, meaning that SAM spot is currently up for grabs.

With there being no clear starter at the SAM linebacker spot, would the Seahawks be wise to play Taylor there? Here’s what former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps had to say on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy on Thursday.

“It really is based on and determined by what you feel you have in your pass-rushing depth,” he said. “I think Darrell Taylor is best-suited to be a Leo, to be a designated edge rusher for your defense in the spot where Carlos Dunlap is going to be, where Benson Mayowa has played, Alton Robinson has also found a way to get himself on the field in that role.”

Taylor was drafted to be a Leo defensive end in Carroll’s defensive system. Leos are tall, long defensive ends with good bend around the edge. But Dunlap, Mayowa and Robinson all have experience in that role and the Seahawks had a potent pass rush last year with those three getting snaps. Seattle finished seventh in the NFL in sacks with 46.

Additionally, the Seahawks signed defensive end Kerry Hyder Jr., who had 8.5 sacks in 2020, in free agency and return L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green as other edge rushers.

So based on Seattle’s current roster, is Leo where Taylor should play?

“I really truly believe that Darrell Taylor right now, the best move could be for him to play that SAM linebacker position,” Heaps said.

While that potential move may surprise some people, moving Taylor to SAM linebacker wouldn’t be that out of the blue based on Taylor’s college experience. Plus, Taylor could still rush the passer on certain downs like Irvin did.

“He came from a 3-4 defensive scheme at Tennessee, he is used to dropping in coverage, he is used to playing that dual role,” Heaps said. “I think you can find a variety of different ways to get Darrell Taylor on the field as a SAM linebacker in base personnel situations and then also when it comes to pass-rushing downs and distances and situations, you can get Darrell Taylor on the field as well, much like what they did with Bruce Irvin.”

Listen to the second hour of Thursday’s Jake and Stacy at this link or in the player below.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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Jake & Stacy