So to get a better sense of what the Rams picked up, I linked up with Chris Landon of UW Dawg Pound, the SB Nation community for fans of the Huskies.
Let’s go back to 2016. Rapp was well-recruited and a known product coming out of northwest Washington, but he was fantastic as a freshman. When did you know you guys had gotten someone special?
When Taylor Rapp arrived at UW, he was a well-known commodity among local fans. Most recruitniks understood that Taylor had a great combination of both physical skill and of on-field accomplishment giving the sense that his ascension in the vaunted Washington defensive backfield was inevitable. What probably surprised most people was how quickly that impact would be felt, especially given the talent that was in front of him as a true freshman. Still, there he was in UW’s first game of his freshman year - a home matchup against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were not a good football team, but they had a decent QB in Chris Laviano and a gameplan to attack the UW secondary with the deep ball. Rapp saw plenty of snaps in that game and made a statement to fans everywhere with his poise and his execution. Nothing flashy, but technically sound and without the anxiety you often see in young players. He was just as DB coach Jimmy Lake had advertised during the fall and, I suspect, most UW fans realized by that game he was going to be special.
What is it he does so well?
Taylor Rapp may be the most technically sound safety to ever have come out of the PAC 12. He’s a true football junkie who has the physical skills to show up in a lot of different roles (covering centerfield, picking up the slot receiver, dropping into the box in run support, pass rushing) and the craftsmanship to execute those roles at a high level. As I’m typing this I can only recall a few instances over his entire three-year career where Rapp took a wrong angle, whiffed on a fake or missed a tackle. His whole value proposition is about “set and forget”. Just tell him what you need him to do and he’ll simply get it done. And, if you decide to let him figure it out on his own, his football IQ and his leadership skills will still likely get you the result you are looking for.
Any weaknesses that you think could be exposed at the NFL level?
Sure. Taylor isn’t exactly an adonis and he won’t wow you with any particular physical skill. He doesn’t have the closing speed of an Earl Thomas or the thump-hammer of a guy like Kam Chancellor. As such, he is susceptible to losing 1:1 battles against physically superior players even when he has done everything right from a technical perspective. That said, I know there has been some consternation about his 40 time run at the UW pro day - something that seems like a complete aberration to me. The other thing to tune into would be his injury situation. Rapp didn’t miss too many snaps during his time at UW, but he missed the Rose Bowl due to a weird injury that was never really explained. Some conspiracy theorists wondered if he sat out to improve his draft stock while others worried more about something more chronic. I really don’t have an answer here, and it may have been something completely benign, but worth mentioning.
NFL draft stock is always hard to nail down once you get past the top tier, but where did you think Rapp would get selected?
The pro day 40 time definitely hurt his stock, but even before then I think that most well-studied Husky fans expected a late first early second kind of range for Taylor Rapp. The rationale was that there are very few opportunities in the NFL draft to take a player who can literally play four positions on your defense. His versatility combined with his football IQ make gives a defensive coordinator tremendous freedom to both get creative with playcalls but to also feel comfortable that the defense can check out of something bad should the offense surprise them with a different look. Rapp’s physical skills are still NFL-worthy even if they are not elite. Thus the downside risk is minimal for a guy like him.
Rapp’s exit comes at a special time for the program. I remember the Don James years, and those were pretty good. But Chris Petersen has now guided you guys to three double-digit winning seasons for the first time ever. You just had eight players drafted and that doesn’t even include QB Jake Browning who joined the Minnesota Vikings as a UDFA.
How do you feel about UW football moving forward overall, and what should NFL fans take note of this year?
Thanks for asking. It is a special time for UW football. There are few moments in the history of any program where you really feel like something special is “under construction”. But this is one of those moments for Husky fans to enjoy. The next step for this program is finally winning against - not just competing well against - the elite programs in the nation.
For NFL fans, I would take note of Chris Petersen’s track record in player development. The eight players drafted in this past draft are derived from his earlier recruiting classes after coming to UW. Since then, his access to more physically talented players has only increased. That talent combined with his program’s ability to develop means that Washington is becoming as relevant a pipeline for NFL ready talent as it has ever been.
Thanks to Chris for the time.