NFL draft: How Jawaan Taylor went from 384-pound recruit to top-10 prospect

The Bucs have shown a lot of interest in the ex-Florida Gators offensive tackle.
Florida Gators offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor (65) and  tight end C'yontai Lewis (80) walk towards the band after the Florida Gators game against Vanderbilt on September 30, 2017. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Florida Gators offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor (65) and tight end C'yontai Lewis (80) walk towards the band after the Florida Gators game against Vanderbilt on September 30, 2017. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published March 29

GAINESVILLE — Two days before getting his last big chance to prove he’s the top offensive tackle in next month’s NFL draft, former Florida standout Jawaan Taylor got a new tattoo.

It’s a royal crown, tucked behind his left ear.

“Just a young king,” Taylor said after Wednesday’s UF pro day. “Just trying to make it, that’s all.”

Jawaan Taylor addresses reporters during Wednesday's pro day with some new ink behind his ear. (Matt Baker | Times)
Jawaan Taylor addresses reporters during Wednesday's pro day with some new ink behind his ear. (Matt Baker | Times)

Taylor has already made it farther than he could have reasonably expected four years ago, rising from an overweight, unheralded recruit to a likely top-15 pick and a potential Bucs target.

Taylor weighed as much as 384 pounds at Cocoa High. The extra weight limited his athleticism and forced him to work just to land a scholarship offer from the Gators.

He dropped 50 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame, and his senior year film convinced UF to take a chance on him. Taylor quickly flipped his commitment from Miami.

The rapid weight loss wasn’t enough to vault him into the recruiting stratosphere. Taylor finished as a three-star prospect, the nation’s No. 941 recruit (46th best offensive guard) and the 20th best talent in UF’s 2016 class.

Florida Gators offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor (65) lifts Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) in celebration of Jefferson's second quarter touchdown during the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on September 1, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Florida Gators offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor (65) lifts Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) in celebration of Jefferson's second quarter touchdown during the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on September 1, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

Those rankings seemed silly quickly. Taylor started 12 games at right tackle in his first season to earn freshman All-America honors by ESPN. He became a dependable anchor on the line, starting 23 more games over his career before declaring for the draft a few hours after the Gators’ 41-15 Peach Bowl rout of Michigan.

“He’s an animal,” former UF teammate Jachai Polite said. “He can do everything they think of. His tape doesn’t lie.”

RELATED: NFL draft: How Florida Gators’ Jachai Polite moved on from his ‘terrible’ combine

But the aggression and physicality he showed on film over three years in the SEC only explains some of his ascent from a likely first-round pick to a probable top-10 selection.

When he started his draft preparation in Pensacola after the Peach Bowl, he weighed 325 pounds. By Wednesday, he was a chiseled 314.

To UF coach Dan Mullen, that’s a sign of Taylor’s continued growth. He looked better at pro day than he did in his final game with the Gators.

“That’s, to me, the type of guy that you want to see is, are you constantly moving forward?” Mullen said. “I think he was a guy that was better last year than he was the year before, and it looks like he’s continued that upward trend.”

That upward trend has teams near the top of the draft buzzing about him, including the Bucs.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line needs help. Last year’s starting right tackle, Demar Dotson, is entering his 11th season, and Caleb Benenoch is moving to tackle after struggling at right guard.

Taylor, who started 33 games at right tackle at UF, said he met with Tampa Bay at the combine. He met with them again after a handful of Bucs representatives watched his at pro day workout. He might be a reach for the Bucs with the No. 5 overall pick, but he’d be a logical target if they trade down.

The Jaguars at No. 7 have also been a common landing spot for Taylor in mock drafts.

“Jacksonville have the No. 1 pick? Because that’s where he needs to go,” said Cece Jefferson, another NFL-bound former UF teammate. “That’s a grown man, dude. That’s the only guy I almost broke my wrist when I punched. His chest is like steel. This guy was made in a lab.”

No one would have said that about Taylor four years ago, but his physical transformation is impossible to argue. That’s why he’ll be in Nashville for the draft to hear his name called early on April 25.

It will be Taylor’s crowning moment.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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