Alontae Taylor made a quick and positive impression on New Orleans Saints fans in 2022 despite having been one of the team's more unexpected picks during the annual NFL draft. The former Tennessee Volunteer was a bright spot when fans really needed it during their uneven "win one, lose two" sequence from Weeks 5 to 15 and now he's got quite a crowd of supporters calling for him to start over other established players in 2023.
So how did we get here? And what does Taylor need to improve upon so he can elbow his way into the starting lineup next season? Let's review his rookie campaign and explore exactly what has fans so amped up:
We expected Taylor would be a big special teams player for the Saints when they drafted him, given how well he performed in that phase at Tennessee and the talent stacked up on the depth chart. Bu the quickly proved himself too valuable an asset on defense to play many reps in the kicking game (he logged just 84 snaps on special teams). Taylor ultimately played 663 defensive snaps across 13 games for New Orleans, which is a fine total for a rookie who missed most of a month with an injury.
Would it surprise you to learn Taylor led the Saints with 11 passes defensed last season? He also had a couple of interceptions wiped out by penalties and sketchy officiating calls (what is a catch, anyway?), but the bottom line is that Taylor's ball skills were on display all year long. The takeaways will come as he spends more time on the field. He also had 46 tackles (39 of them solo, 1 tackle for loss).
One area Taylor must clean up is his missed tackles. Pro Football Reference charged him with 8 misses, a miss rate of 14.8%; Pro Football Focus was less charitable, hitting him with 13 missed tackles at a rate of 23.6%. Impressive as he may be in other ways defensively, they can't afford to play him if he's allowing big plays by whiffing on too many tackles.
Pro Football Focus grade
Taylor's poor tackling grade at PFF (30.5) caused his overall defensive grade to plunge down to 54.5, which is beneath average. Those mistakes in the run game in particular led to a low grade for that phase (48.9). One area I'll disagree heavily with PFF on is Taylor's coverage grade (56.3).
Per their snap-by-snap charting, he was targeted 64 times but allowed just 29 receptions for an average of 9.8 yards per catch, with the longest completion only gaining 20 yards, and he never yielded a touchdown catch in his coverage. PFF's own charting found that Taylor's opponents converted a first down on only 17 of those 29 receptions. How does that warrant such a low grade?
Season recap, future outlook
For the most part, Taylor was really impressive. He didn't wilt against established pass-catchers around the league like DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, and George Kittle even when they got the best of him. He was consistently competitive at the catch point. He also wasn't much of a penalty magnet, except for a weird sequence against the Steelers in which he was fouled three times on one afternoon. He should be at least competing with Paulson Adebo to start opposite Marshon Lattimore in the fall, and if he can clean up those errors in his game, he should be an easy choice to run with the starting unit.
There's a lot to look back on positively for Taylor, especially considering how skeptical the fanbase was when the Saints called his name on draft day. He competed hard, carved out a role for himself, and now he's built his own following of supporters who are excited to see what's next. If not for the issues with missed tackles he's an easy A grade.
Story originally appeared on Saints Wire