No one can say he’s Too Tall.
That title belongs to Ed Jones, the 6-9 defensive lineman for the Cowboys in the 1970s and ’80s. Besides, at just a smidge shorter, a few hairs shy of the 6-8 he is listed at on the Giants’ roster, defensive end Devin Taylor was actually too small to play the sport he initially wanted to.
“A lot of people say, ‘Hey, man, you should be playing basketball,’ ” Taylor told Newsday. “I’m like, ‘If I had one more inch, I’d be doing that!’ Everyone currently in the NBA is at least 6-8, so for me, I was like, ‘Eh, I’ll play football. I like hitting people.’ That was the reason I played football.”
Now he’s a giant Giant, the tallest player on the roster this summer. Acquired as a free agent after four years with the Lions, Taylor is hard to miss on the field. Even standing amid a forest of teammates, his helmet rises above them all.
When asked if he’d ever seen a defensive end that tall, Romeo Okwara said, “I don’t think I have.’’ Okwara, at a measly 6-4, must crane his neck to talk to his new teammate. Olivier Vernon is just 6-2, yielding half a foot to Taylor, who is a foot taller than cornerback Donte Deayon, the shortest player on the roster.
Last year there were only 14 other players in the NFL listed at 6-8 or taller. Twelve were offensive linemen. Calais Campbell in Arizona and Margus Hunt in Indianapolis were the only other defensive ends in that group, and both played a 3-4 scheme. That leaves Taylor as the tallest 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.
So what’s that like?
“Like everything,” Taylor said, “with advantages there are disadvantages.”
The advantages are pretty obvious.
“You have a lot of range,” Taylor said. “You can affect the quarterback’s throw by being able to knock down the ball or be able to reach a running back running away from you that some people might not be able to get to.”
Football, especially play at the line of scrimmage, is based almost entirely on technique and leverage. The low man usually wins. And that means the 6-8 man has to work hard to get down there.
“When you are taller, I don’t think you naturally play higher, but when you think you are low, you’re not as low as everyone else is,” Taylor said. “That’s always the battle of being a tall person, trying to figure out your best advantages of playing lower to use your length to help you succeed.”
Taylor knows he’s not here to stand out. The Giants brought him in not to compete for a starting job, but to be a backup. One of the glaring deficiencies of last year’s defense was the need to have Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul on the field for virtually every snap, which limited their effectiveness. Vernon had to play through a broken hand, and a core muscle injury ended Pierre-Paul’s season in Week 13.
This year, the Giants want players who can give those star ends some in-game breathers and, theoretically, make them more effective late in the season and possibly even deep into January.
“I feel like I bring some more depth,” Taylor said. “There are the two perennial premier guys, but you have to have at least a third and fourth guy as well who can add in to the depth of the defensive line, whether it be making plays in the run game or the pass game.”
The Giants hope Taylor can give them that. Okwara, who started for Pierre-Paul after his injury, is in that mix, too. So are Kerry Wynn, Owa Odighizuwa and rookie Avery Moss.
Taylor has more experience. He has 15 sacks in four years with the Lions, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2013. He started 16 games last year but had just 4.5 sacks. The previous season he had seven. His increased workload seemed to expose him a little bit, and teams were able to scheme against him better.
It was a classic case of less being more. Which is fine here. If Taylor can play 10 to 15 snaps a game, the Giants will be thrilled.
“It’s easier (to fit in with a new team) when you know your role and you are working toward fitting into that,” Taylor said. “They kind of gave me an idea, but I still have to work to fill it in.”
Taylor must show he can do it. He’s been hurt for most of the past week and missed three padded practices while working on a leg injury that popped up early in camp.
“I’m anxious, but at the same time I know there is only so much I can do,” he said of waiting to get on the field. “It’s better to be 100 percent than try to go in half healthy and do worse than what they expect of you.”
On Saturday he participated in his first contact practice with the Giants. He took reps with the third team, but a few came against the first offensive unit. He looked good, getting into the backfield to force Eli Manning to throw away a pass and holding the edge on a run by Orleans Darkwa that was stuffed.
“He’s a player that has a lot of experience, a lot of reps under his belt,” Ben McAdoo said. “We’ll see what he has left as far as the pass-rushing goes.”
If it’s enough to give the stars a break now and again, Taylor will be worth his height in gold. And that’s a lot.