Why Seahawks linebacker Darrell Taylor’s sack numbers have soared

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RENTON — Seahawks veteran defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson watches teammate Darrell Taylor and sometimes can’t help but wonder.

“I feel like he doesn’t even realize how much talent he has in his own body,” Jefferson said.

Taylor finally might be figuring that out as the season comes to a close, though, with the Seahawks happy to benefit from that knowledge.

Taylor is technically a third-year player, selected in the second round out of Tennessee with the 2020 NFL draft with the 48th overall pick.

But after missing his rookie year because of a leg injury, Taylor has played just two NFL seasons, or 31 games.

And as Jefferson says, “He’s really coming into his own the past few weeks.”

Taylor has 5.5 sacks the past five games — including a career-high 2.5 in Sunday’s 23-6 victory over the New York Jets — and has 8.5 this season, second on the team behind Uchenna Nwosu’s nine.

Taylor also has 15 for his career, third-most by any player in the 2020 draft class. The most is 20 by Pittsburgh’s Alex Highsmith, though he has played 17 more games than Taylor.

Taylor also has the second-most sacks of any Seattle player in his first 31 games, behind the 18.5 by Jeff Bryant from 1982-84.

Few likely anticipated those stats at midseason, when Taylor was in a slump that cost him his starting outside-linebacker job and had some calling him among the Seahawks’ most disappointing players.

After finishing his rookie year with 6.5 sacks, tied for second-most on the team, Taylor seemed poised for a breakout 2022 season.

But he struggled early to set the edge against the run, which compelled Seattle start Bruce Irvin (who has started the past nine games) and play Taylor mostly in pass-rush situations.

That streamlining of Taylor’s role has helped — Taylor has 7.5 sacks since the sixth game.

After having a 114-to-105 pass-play-to-run-play split in the first five games, he has since been used 155 times on passing downs to just 57 on running downs.

Meetings with coaches also helped, to reinforce that they believed in him and to sell him on simplifying his game, emphasizing speed and quickness.

“About a month ago it made some sense to him about featuring his strengths and really trying to maximize the speed rushes that he is so good at,” Carroll said. “I think it has kicked him into a different gear. He’s out there more, and he’s trying to maximize his ability to run around guys. He has a great get-off, and he’s very athletic, and that’s his strength as opposed [to] trying to do too many things and maybe watering down his good shots at getting to the quarterback.’’

Taylor’s breakout, which began with a sack on the final series to help clinch a 27-23 victory over the Rams on Dec. 4, came after a three-game stretch without a tackle, let alone a sack, while playing just 49 snaps. He also dealt with a hip/groin injury during that span.

Asked if Taylor was frustrated, Carroll said: “Yeah, that’s why we sat down and started talking about it, because he was frustrated. It wasn’t happening … the way he wanted it to. He kind of got off to a little flashy start, and it kind of quieted a little bit.”

Taylor said it was “pretty tough not playing the way you wanted to play” but added that the sit-downs with Carroll and defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt helped turn things around.

“We were just talking about the things that I do best,” Taylor said. “He [Carroll] sent me a few film clips to watch myself from last season. That helped a lot, just seeing how I rushed last season, and I was just trying to get back to that.

” … It was definitely great, and I needed it. It helped a lot. As you can see, the second half of the season has gone pretty well for me.”

And never better than Sunday, when Taylor finished the game with a sack.

“I never did that before,” he said. “That was crazy.”

A more impressive feat came in the second quarter when he sprinted around former Seahawk George Fant for a sack on a third down that held the Jets to a field goal (Jefferson also was credited with a half-sack.)

Taylor said the Seahawks had some help on that one.

“We knew that we had a tip on the center, so we used it,” he said, meaning Jets center Connor McGovern was tipping off when the snap would be on that particular play. “It worked out on my behalf.”

Still, not every NFL player could have burst around Fant the way Taylor did, even if they knew when the snap was coming. It’s the kind of play that further validated why the Seahawks drafted Taylor where they did, and the work it’s taken to get him to this point.

“Anybody that is competitive, and Darrell is very competitive, it can be a frustrating time,” Hurtt said of his midseason talks with Taylor. “But the thing is, and a credit to his growth through that process to figure things out. You can go one of two ways with young players as they develop. You can either baby guys and give them what they want, and they turn into a terror to deal with when they become seven-, eight-, nine-year veterans, or you help them grow through the process, and that’s to his credit.

“He’s handled that, and he has a bright future, and he will have a fantastic career and will continue to grow. It’s definitely helped us to see him take off the way he has, and just to continue to see him get better is the goal, and I believe he will.”

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