Oregon’s Taylor Hart came in as a player that had the potential to turn into the type of game changing prospect that Dion Jordan evolved into becoming last year. Hart had immense physical tools and potential last year and put together a nice season. The issues he had were not addressed and resulted in a regression in terms of statistical production as well as seeing the Ducks have some real issues stopping the run this year.
Hart’s physical potential is still there and he could be somewhat of a sleeping giant as he projects to the NFL. The one issue he has is the same as it was last year; he plays too high, has trouble playing with consistent leverage and pad level and his physical gifts are somewhat wasted. If Hart can correct that as he goes into the NFL, he could be a force; being too big, too strong and too quick for opponents. The fact that Hart is that close to being a great player make it difficult to see him getting out of the top 100 picks as he could be an absolute steal but if he cannot improve there, he is always going to be a case of what could have been.
Vitals & Build
Hart is listed at 6’6” 287lbs and is a remarkable athlete. He shows good quickness and speed combined with impressive strength that enables him to be a force on the defensive line, if he would simply use it. The problem is that he has bad habits that limit what he does 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. Hart’s physical build is impressive and he carries a little weight around his midsection but given his size, he looks pretty good. 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. There are times when his stance is so poor that he squats like a catcher with his hands off of the ground. This occurred quite frequently in their game against Tennessee and outside of a few plays, he struggled to make an impact.
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.
The difference is so stark for Hart that it becomes clear when Hart is going to make a big play. When he has his stance right, he is so quick, so strong and so explosive that he becomes incredibly difficult to stop. Often times he is able to get into the backfield and make a big play, but the times when opponents are able to corral him, he is being contained after collapsing the pocket and creating opportunities for teammates.
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.
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.
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.
And while it is not related to pass rushing, Hart has developed a great instinct on when opponents are trying to run screens. He seems to have a great feel for when opponents are letting him by too easily and reading keys as to when a screen is coming. With his big body and solid lateral range, he is able to combat a good amount of plays and potentially knock them down or more. It is difficult to throw around him and if opponents are not careful and trying to run a jail break screen behind him, he could just end up intercepting one and be off to the races.
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.
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.
The combination of size, athleticism, and strength could make Taylor Hart a late riser in the process he should do really well in workouts. 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. In that sense, he could be a sleeping giant but the fact that this glaring issue has been there for two seasons and not been addressed is a question that needs to be directed at Hart as well as the coaching staff at Oregon. 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. His physical tools and potential as well as his schematic fit make it tough to see him last outside of the top 100 but if he does, it would suggest teams are not confident he can ever play up to the that potential.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com