2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Taylor Hart, DT Oregon

Nov 12, 2011; Stanford CA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive tackle Taylor Hart (66) lines up for a play against the Stanford Cardinal during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Oregon defeated Stanford 53-30. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon gets a ton of attention because of their offense and rightfully so, but their athletes with the highest ceilings have come on defense.  Dion Jordan last year, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at corner this year as well as Taylor Hart, their titan of a defensive lineman.  Hart is an athletic specimen but much like Jordan, he is not a finished product, although he showed flashes of what he can be this year and in the NFL.  Jordan went third overall in this past draft but Hart was more productive for Oregon’s defense last year, racking up 24 solo tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.  The other aspect that makes him like Jordan is the fact he plays multiple roles in the Oregon defense as he is often lined up at defensive end but can play defensive tackle and a rush linebacker position as well.

Hart will draw notice on his immense athletic talent, but the glimpses of brilliance and solid production last year will certainly not hurt him.  The issues for Hart come down to consistency and technique and unless they improve, he will never be able to tap into all of his immense athleticism and potential.  It is difficult to imagine Hart would not be a top 100 pick right now just on his athleticism, but if he can be consistent with his technique, especially with his stance, much like with Jordan last year, the sky is the limit for Hart and he could end up fighting for a spot in the first round.

Vitals & Build

Hart is listed at 6’6” 292lbs and is a remarkable athlete.  He shows good quickness and speed combined with functional strength that enables him to be a force on the defensive line.  The problem is that he has bad habits that limit what do as an athlete, so he is often reduced to flashes.  It would not be a surprise if he is someone who could end up lighting it up in work outs.  It is impressive that Hart can do all of this while carrying a belly.  Depending on what system he is ultimately drafted to play, he could cut some of that fat and might be a better athlete for it.  His motor does not seem to be problematic as he moves when the ball is live, but it does beg the question why he uses poor habits that make him less athletic before the snap.  Much will depend on the scheme he is drafted, but Hart does still seem to have a lot of physical upside.  With his frame, it is difficult to tell just how far he can take it, but he could be someone who adds strength, loses fat, and comes to about the same weight but is a far better player and athlete for it.

Snap Anticipation & First Step

Hart’s ability to get a jump on the opponent and execute a good first step are linked to his stance.  He plays in both a 2-point stance and a 3-point stance, but he has variations with his hand on the ground that yield completely different results.

Far too often, Hart is in a frog stance with his butt down.  As a result, the first movement he makes when the ball is snapped is up, getting his butt off the ground so he can attack forward.  Despite that, his first step is relatively decent but he stands straight up in the process, killing his leverage and making him operate with almost nothing but his arm strength.  It makes it incredibly difficult for him to be effective at anything except as a clogging run defender.

This is probably the reason that despite his size, Oregon will run out of a 2-point stance and a standup rusher.  Because he is not wasting motion by having to get up out of his stance, he is able to push forward and be more explosive.  It is not ideal because of his height and length, which would be better served attacking with a rising blow, but it makes him more effective off of the edge.

The hope for Hart is in the fact that there are times when he will bring out a flat backed, 3-point stance with an even distribution of his weight.  It is unclear as to the reasoning of when and why he does it, but from here, he suddenly becomes the player to watch on the Ducks defense.  Without having to pick his butt up off of the ground, Hart’s explosion goes forward and stays down, which reveals an impressive first step and immediately gives him an advantage against his opponent, forcing them to adjust to what he is doing, which can range from bracing for impact or being beaten around the edge.  If he can do this consistently, it allows him to take advantage of his natural talent and makes him a force on the defensive line.

Block Shedding

It all comes down to leverage for Hart.  When he attacks out of that frog stance, he is basically limited to trying to win with his arms, create space, and make plays.  He has to work much harder because he is only using a fraction of his strength.

The times where he is able to attack with good leverage, he has a number of options.  His bull rush can be devastating as he drives opponents into the backfield and into the quarterback.  As a result, he can win with speed and quickness on the edge because opponents will occasionally feel the need to brace for impact and stay in place to hold up against his strength, which gives him the ability to go right around and get into the backfield.  As he is often coming from the end spot, he can turn speed into power which again, could be extremely effective but it requires him to sink his hips and get low, which he has not consistently shown he can do.  His arms are far more effective as he his body behind them and he can rip or just create enough separation for him to operate and go with another move.

Run Stopping

Hart’s ability to stop the run starts with his ability to stay low.  When he can stay low, he is not only someone who can take on and clog up multiple blockers, but he has the ability to penetrate and make plays behind the scrimmage.  His combination of strength and size make it difficult for opponents to run at him.

The times when he plays high, he can still be hold up, use his arms to free himself and make plays, but he is far more limited and can be overpowered at times.  When he is too tall, he is not able to take advantage of all of his strength and can be off balance, making it too easy to topple over and create space.

Pass Rushing

Like with everything else, it comes down to his leverage and stance.  Out of his frog stance, he is borderline useless as a pass rusher and is hoping to have the quarterback be flushed into his range where he can grab them.  When he plays low, he can be downright scary.  Between power, quickness, and outright speed, he is remarkable in what he can do, chasing the quarterback down like a bear attack.  He can get caught up in short areas where he has trouble breaking down and making plays, but he is quick around the edge and has impressive closing speed.  Quarterbacks are better off trying to juke him than they are trying to run away from him.

He has the ability to play inside or off of the edge, but he seems far more comfortable playing on the outside as he likes to attack the edge.  Hart needs to take more ownership of attacking on the inside, but the reason he likely does not comes down to the fact that when he is playing tall, it is either speed rush or nothing.  If he can consistently play low, he can unleash the beast and whether he is inside or outside, he is a huge threat to get to the quarterback.

System Fit

Hart’s best fit is probably as a 5-technique end in a 3-4 scheme because he just seems to be far more comfortable playing on the outside.  He has prototypical length and size for that position while having enough speed to be a threat from the edge.  Hart certainly has the ability to kick inside and be a rush tackle or just be a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme as a 3-technique, but unless he gets consistent with his leverage, that could be a risky proposition.  There will definitely be teams that are willing to try to fix him if he does not make the adjustment himself as a senior, but the 3-4 seems like the best way to use all of his talent.

2013 Schedule

Sat, Aug. 31 vs. Nicholls State
Sat, Sept. 7 at Virginia
Sat, Sept. 14 vs. Tennessee
Sat, Sept. 28 vs. Cal
Sat, Oct. 5 at Colorado
Sat, Oct. 12 at Washington
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. Washington State
Sat, Oct. 26 vs. UCLA
Thu, Nov. 7 at Stanford
Sat, Nov. 16 vs. Utah
Sat, Nov. 23 at Arizona
Fri, Nov. 29 vs. Oregon State

Notable Games

Tennessee is a big game for Oregon in general because it poses toughness against speed at least that is how it will be tabbed.  The Vols offensive line is impressive and wherever Hart lines up should be a good matchup with the most notable being Antonio Richardson.  If Hart uses leverage, he could be an impact player regardless of who is lined up against, but if not, he could get drilled.  While every indication suggests that Oregon will take Colorado apart in Boulder, the matchup between Hart and offensive tackle Jack Harris could be an intriguing one as Harris will undoubtedly be looking to make a name for himself in the NFL Draft world this year and Hart could be a good player to put in his trophy room if he can do it.  Stanford is always a good test for defensive linemen because of their tradition of offensive line play and their scheme with small splits and a lot of tight ends helping to chip and block on defensive linemen.  Hart has shown he has the size and strength to take on double teams, but he can also be beaten by single blocks if his leverage is wrong.

NFL Comparison

Hart looks like J.J. Watt and when he is right, he plays like him too.  The problem is that far more often, he plays far more like Margus Hunt did last year for SMU; flashes of greatness and overwhelming athleticism surrounded by a frustrating amount of mediocre play as a result of bad leverage.   Hart does not have the ridiculous resume when it comes to special teams and blocking kicks that Hunt did, Hart is also significantly younger than Hunt was.  Both have immense potential and athletic ability but may never take full advantage of it if their technique is not improved and consistent.

Draft Projection

The combination of size, athleticism, and strength in addition to the production Taylor Hart was able to put together last year warrant a top 100 selection.  His technique is inconsistent and his leverage is a huge key for him to be successful, but if he can do it, he has the potential to be dominant.  The problem is obvious on film, so it stands to reason that Oregon is aware of it, so the question then becomes why it has not been fixed already.  Hart should be doing everything he can to improve his flexibility and make it easier for him to bend as the improvement could result in a monstrous year for the Ducks and a first round pick in the NFL Draft.

Topics: 2014 Mock Draft, 2014 NFL Draft, Defensive Ends, Defensive Tackles, Oregon Ducks Football, Taylor Hart

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