Last night at the MTV Video Music Awards, I heard the name Tyler the Creator for the first time. Tyler, or The Creator for short, had one of the strangest acceptance speeches in the history of an odd awards show after winning the Bet New Artist Award but that’s not the point. It was memorable for teenage music fans.

More memorable for me this past week, was the emergence of Tyrod Taylor during the preseason or as the name he should rightfully be bestowed with— Tyrod “Taylor The Creator”.  While Tyler shocked many by winning Best New artist over a well-known field of performers, Taylor has surprised many with his preseason play. In the waning minute, Taylor led the Ravens or not one but two game winning drives. Not only does he gain yards with his feet but he also creates with his legs.

On the previous drive, Taylor had actually dropped a perfectly arching ball into the outstretched arms of running back Anthony Allen on fourth down. Allen returned the favor by dropping it.

Most importantly, he made it look easy.

The sleeper of the 2011 NFL Draft has awaken

It wasn’t just Thursday night. Taylor has been productive for the entire preseason.

If Tyrod Taylor were a Bengal, Dolphin, Redskin or 49er he’d be in contention for the starting job today. Instead, he’ll serve as the Ravens backup quarterback this season. I say this season, for a specific reason. After watching Tyrod Taylor for three pre-season games and four years as a Virginia Tech Hokie, I believe Taylor is a future starting quarterback in the National Football League.

In the preseason, Taylor has completed 61.4% of his pass attempts, one touchdown pass and two interceptions (from his first preseason game), averaged 130 yards per game, or roughly two quarters per game and has handled collapsing pockets better than Flacco. He’s also rushed for 95 yards, including 59 on Thursday night.

The most impressive of his runs came out of necessity against the Kansas City Chiefs, nearly two weeks ago.

As the Ravens closed in on the Chiefs red zone, Taylor faked the handoff on a three-step drop and swung his head around as potential starting rookie Chiefs linebacker, Justin Houston turned the corner from Taylor’s blind spot and closed in on him for the sack.  Taylor’ reaction was video game-like. Taylor stopped Houston in his tracks by making two quick juke moves, bounced outside, darted around the defender, raced to the corner of the end zone and dove for the pylon. It was a video game move.

Compare his performance with that of the top pick in the 2011 Draft, Cam Newton. Newton has exceled as a runner, however he wasn’t chosen #1 overall to serve as a Wildcat option. In the pocket, he’s been atrocious, inaccurate and inept.

Through three games Newton has thrown for under 100 yards per game, completed only 40% of his passes and hasn’t thrown a touchdown as of today. That doesn’t sound like a rookie slump. Newton’s slow start resembles an inability to handle an NFL offense. However, he’ll likely start Week 1.

Like The IPhone, Cam Newton can't give his receivers receptions

The strength of his game is obviously his rushing ability. The spin says that his rushing ability forces teams to alter their defensive game plans when he’s on the field. It’s true, but it also means cornerbacks and defensive coordinators don’t respect his arm and will play him accordingly.

The Ben Roethlisberger comparisons are off base. Roethlisberger may share the same size advantage, but he was much purer passer coming out of college. But the perception will be that Newton is progressing.

Such is the benefit of being 6’6, 250 pounds and the 1st overall pick. In the battle of measurables and draft/social status, Newton outranks Tyrod Taylor like the Joint Chiefs of Staff outrank a the Department of Agriculture.

Both Newton and Taylor make plays with their feet outside the pocket and by scrambling for extra yardage when the play breaks down. However, Taylor possesses something Newton does not. Taylor has always flashed natural quarterback instinct, pocket awareness and accuracy.

The knock on him has always been his size. Likewise, NFL scouts have always been obsessed with size. Just ask Ohio State’s Heisman winner, Troy Smith. A prototypical passer, with below average height, Smith was a fifth round draft pick of the Ravens in 2007. Four years later, the Oakland Raiders
chose 6’6 Ohio State quarterback, Terrelle Pryor despite his pedestrian passing acumen in the third round.

As a 6th round pick, Taylor’s play will be diminished but NFL scouts have made mistakes before. Taylor being selected after Christian Ponder, Ricky Stanzi, UNC’s T.J. Yates and Colin Kaepernick, who played in a gimmicky collegiate offense is proof enough. Taylor’s resume and skill set hovers over these four. Unfortunately, his line of vision does not.

Taylor’s successor at Virginia Tech in the spring is 6’6 redshirt sophomore, Logan Thomas, who was originally targeted to convert to receiver by Frank Beamer. Despite never starting a game before the upcoming season, Thomas is ranked as the second quarterback in the Class of 2014 by CBS Sports Draft site.

Taylor isn’t the biggest quarterback specimen but at 6’1, he’s taller than Drew Brees, Frank Tarkenton and Mike Vick. As a black quarterback from Virginia Tech, with scrambling ability, Taylor will automatically get filed into the Vick-Lite section of the NFL cerebral sportex, but it’s not an accurate comparison for his style and situation.

Taylor’s pass-first tendencies combined with his poise, athleticism, four years of starting experience, and his low draft status is reminiscent of Browns quarterback Colt McCoy’s rookie year.

Vick trained with Taylor before the NFL Draft but Taylor has always been ahead of Vick on the curve of using his legs to scramble behind the pocket, while keeping his eyes upfield.

It’s not as if he came out of nowhere. Taylor arrived at Virginia Tech as the third ranked signal caller in the Class of 2007, and the #1 dual threat.

As a senior at Virginia Tech, Taylor passed for 2,521 yards, 23 touchdowns and 4 interceptions and rushed for 637 yards and 5 touchdowns. Most importantly, college is where he first forged his flair for the dramatic. He had a college career marked with come from behind wins that he created with his arms and legs.

Most people remember his dazzling touchdown pass against Stanford in the Orange Bowl as the highlight of Taylor’s career, however, there were more. Many more.

Against Nebraska’s vaunted defense in his junior season, Taylor led the Hokies on an unlikely game winning touchdown drive in the final minute and 21 seconds. It began with Taylor buying time before connecting on a deep throw with receiver Danny Coale on an 81 yard catch and run to the Nebraska 3-yard line. On third and goal from the 11-yard line, Taylor scrambled for 9 seconds before finding a receiver in the end zone.

I use those highlights of his collegiate career to illustrate the point that Taylor is a passing quarterback with scrambling capabilities. Cam Newton may be the IPhone of NFL quarterbacks. He’s flashy, see’s himself as an icon and is the biggest fad, literally in the NFL but he has more trouble connecting on passes than the IPhone has connecting on calls. Like the IPhone, Cam Newton can’t give his receivers receptions

Nobody, including me can guarantee Taylor is a Pro Bowl quarterback but he already has the tools to be a winning quarterback. Barring an injury to Joe Flacco, it won’t happen in Baltimore but thus far, I’m convinced Tyrod Taylor will be remembered as the sleeper quarterback of the 2011 draft.

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