There are a number of wide receivers on the Browns’ roster who enter training camp with long-shot odds to make the final roster, and Taylor Gabriel is one of them. With that said, there is reason to believe that Gabriel’s skillset will likely qualify him to make the final cut.
Gabriel hails from Mesquite, Texas where he attended John Horn High School and became an all-state performer on the football field. Though he’s just 5-foot-8, his talent frequently enabled him to rise above his competition. Gabriel earned scholarship offers to schools such as Tulsa, Nebraska, SMU, and TCU. Unfortunately he was unable to achieve ACT/SAT standards necessary to become eligible for the aforementioned scholarship offers.
While he did not meet the criteria for a Division-I scholarship, Gabriel remained undeterred, and committed to Division-II Abilene Christian University. As a freshman he registered just 26 receptions for 295 yards. As a sophomore he exploded onto the scene with 988 yards on 64 receptions and 10 touchdowns. Gabriel had a down year in his third season with the wildcats with just 691 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns, but would rebound in his senior year, hauling in 73 receptions for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Twelve NFL scouts were in attendance to see Gabriel run 4.53 in the 40-yard dash against a 20-miles-per-hour wind, and 4.27 in the 40-yard dash with the wind. Gabriel looked great in position drills during his workout as well. At the conclusion of his pro day, it was thought that Gabriel had tested into late round consideration, but draft day proved otherwise. Gabriel went undrafted, but was signed by the wide receiver needy Cleveland Browns.
The Browns are devoid of talented playmakers on the flanks for a myriad of reasons, and they would certainly be doing well to have Gabriel on their roster at the conclusion of camp. Below is a list of reasons the Browns will hold on to the prodigious playmaker out of Abilene Christian University:
It is key for a wide receiver to be able to track the football, especially a wide receiver who possesses the speed that Gabriel has. Faster wide receivers occasionally have difficulty holding on to the football on deep routes because of the frequency of the quaking of their shoulder pads when pumping their arms.
Gabriel clearly doesn’t have that problem, as he is able to consistently quiet his body at the point of the catch. He also has the ability to locate the football at the last possible moment, and catch it at its highest point before the defensive back can react. While he’s just 5-foot-8, a wide receiver who understands exactly when to go up and attack the football will ALWAYS be tall enough.
Change of Direction (C.O.D)
As an undersized player, it is imperative to be able to get on the edge of tacklers and change directions at full speed, or as close to full speed as possible. Gabriel possesses outstanding lateral agility that routinely awards him separation before and after the catch. It is clear — Gabriel has exceptional stop and start ability. Outside of Andrew Hawkins, there isn’t a single wide receiver on the Browns’ roster that can “stop on a dime”, and reaccelerate the way Gabriel can.
In the above video, the opposing defense is clearly playing zone. The cornerback (No. 28) gives Gabriel a ton of cushion. Gabriel’s speed enables him to eat up the cushion before the cornerback can turn his hips and run. Gabriel manages to beat the cornerback as well as the safety as a result of his long speed. The Browns desperately need a wide receiver who has potential to hit the homerun on any given play irrespective of coverage, and Gabriel is definitely that guy. He is a zone buster all by himself.
Run After Catch (R.A.C)
Gabriel’s ability after the catch might be the best part of his game. He literally ran circles around Southland-Conference defenders, especially during his senior season. His elusiveness and over-stride-speed cut in the open field is very similar to Reggie Bush. His ability to string moves together is second to none when comparing him to the current group of Browns’ receiver. The Browns’ coaching staff would be remiss if they did not acknowledge his skill in this area and get him involved in the quick passing game as soon as possible.
Last but not least, Gabriel is extremely versatile. Throughout his career at Abilene Christian, he’s been very effective on the outside, in the slot, as well as on special teams. He’s got the ball skills and long speed to make defenders fear him while lined up on the numbers, the lateral agility and footwork to make life miserable for a defensive back in the slot, and his ability to string moves together combined with his speed and quickness makes him extremely tough to cover on punt returns. Versatility saves roster spots, and Gabriel’s versatility in conjunction with his other attributes should enable him to earn his keep.
There is a lot to like about Gabriel’s game. What he did at the collegiate level is no fluke. It is evident — the kid really knows how to play the game of football and has a knack for making the big play.
If Gabriel can manage to get some time with the second-team offense (which is a possibility), expect he and Johnny Manziel to establish a connection fairly quickly. Manziel’s ability to consistently break outside contain, combined with Gabriel’s quickness, ability to regularly gain separation, and open field running ability could spell trouble for many defenses, especially second-team defenses.
Taylor Gabriel might be a long shot to make the Browns’ team in the eyes of many, but I have a hard time believing he won’t make the Browns’ 53-man roster.
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