The NFL’s draft season is in full swing, and, as has become usual, there are several Tar Heels firmly in the mix to be selected by an NFL team come late April. After a few all-star games, we’re now getting to the centerpiece of Draft Season, namely the NFL Scouting Combine. Nearly every draftable player in the country is flying to Indianapolis right now, getting ready for anthropomorphic, athletic, and skills testing, a barrage of talks and interviews with NFL decision-makers, and plenty of media availability. This year’s relatively young UNC team is sending four alumni to the Combine: Josh Downs, Antoine Green, Asim Richards, and Noah Taylor. Seeing as defensive linemen and linebackers will be the first group to check in to the event, I figure we can start this mini-series with Taylor. These primers aren’t scouting reports; those will come later. Rather, they’ll be relatively quick looks at where each player’s draft stock is right now, any question marks surrounding them, and what they stand to gain from the Combine. So, with that said, let’s take a look at Noah Taylor.
Taylor joined the Tar Heels as a grad transfer from Virginia ahead of the 2022 season. He was second in sacks the previous year with UVA, albeit with just 3, but was one of the Hoos’ more consistent defenders at the line of scrimmage — an area where UNC desperately needed help. Taylor slid into the Heels’ starting lineup immediately at Gene Chizik’s Jack position (more or less an on-ball outside linebacker, but closer to the line of scrimmage) and made an impact from Day 1, with a sack in his first game. He was pretty consistent in the following weeks, making or assisting on at least one tackle for loss or sack in each of the Heels’ first six games, finishing that stretch with 6 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Just as it seemed he was really coming into his own, though, Taylor suffered a non-contact injury to his knee early in UNC’s eighth game and underwent season-ending surgery, cutting short a promising campaign.
What to look for:
Head Coach Mack Brown is pretty tight-lipped about injury specifics, so we don’t know for certain exactly which part of his knee Taylor injured and had surgically repaired. That said, it’s been less than five months since the injury, so the odds are relatively high that he won’t be ready to return to action just yet. Still, measurements and interviews will be important for Taylor, who, based on this interview, seems to want to sell himself as a Micah Parsons-like line-up-anywhere-and-make-an-impact defender. Even if he can’t prove that he’s as athletic as Parsons, Taylor’s height, weight, and wingspan will be a big deal — both for proving that he has the size to rush the passer in the NFL (which I’m comparatively less worried about) and for avoiding being pigeonholed as a pass rusher.
What he has to gain:
Well, kind of everything. Taylor appears to be a fringe draft prospect right now, not really generating much discussion in any of the places where you typically see prospects’ names, even the deep sleepers. There aren’t a lot of thorough prospect rankings yet, but from the ones I’ve seen, Taylor is typically listed between #s 330 and 370 — either at the edge of the draft or in priority free agent range. He was on a lot of people’s radars as a mid-Day 3 pick about this time last year, and players who finish the year injured always start out the process a little overlooked because their name wasn’t being said on broadcasts, so he’s definitely got the opportunity to generate some buzz as the process goes on. And that starts with the Combine. Even if he can’t wow anybody with his testing yet, his self-comparison to Parsons will definitely stick in people’s minds, and maybe make them take a second look at his tape. That could be enough to insert him firmly into the conversation.