Taylor Gabriel, the Falcons latest offensive weapon, is the subject of this week’s Featured Falcon Friday.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the many blessings life has to offer. Taylor Gabriel is thankful for one particular gift this year, the opportunity to be a part of “the [brotherhood] movement,” that is sweeping the Atlanta Falcons locker room.
“I’m grateful for the [Falcons] to give me the opportunity to show my talent,” Gabriel said in an interview with Deion Sanders after last Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Atlanta Falcons fans also have a reason to be thankful, thankful for the Cleveland Browns. Not too long after “gifting” Alex Mack to Atlanta, the Browns parted ways with Taylor Gabriel as part of their final roster cuts. The Falcons happily picked up the 25-year old Gabriel and now have more reason to send Jimmy Haslem’s crew a Christmas card this season.
If anyone was going pound the table for a Gabriel signing at the conclusion of Training Camp, it was Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan was Browns offensive coordinator when Taylor Gabriel posted a 621-yard rookie season nearly 2 years ago.
It was mentioned in a previous edition of Featured Falcon Friday that Adrian Clayborn deserves consideration as “the second best signing of the 2016 offseason”. Well things have certainly changed over the past 4 games and while Clayborn is out 3-5 weeks with a knee injury, Taylor Gabriel is moving in on the honor.
Gabriel began the season slow out of the block but like any good sprinter, he has turned it on as of late. Taylor has evolved into a game-breaker opposite the Julio Jones, having scored 5 touchdowns in the last 4 contests.
What makes Gabriel’s touchdown streak even more special is the variety of ways in which he has reached pay dirt. In the Green Bay and Philadelphia games, Gabriel displayed a deep play threat pairing with Julio Jones that the Atlanta Falcons have lacked since the days of Roddy White’s prime.
With Gabriel’s penchant to connect on the home run ball, opposing teams are now forced to think twice about sliding the coverage Julio’s way. Additionally, Tampa Bay and Arizona games prove Taylor Gabriel is not just a one trick pony. Gabriel is just as dangerous receiving the ball on a screen or end around as he is using his speed on a vertical route.
That much-talked-about speed of Gabriel first gained traction at his pro day when a wind propelled 4.27 40 time had the scouts buzzing. But straight line speed was not the only attribute that Taylor tested off the charts on.
Gabriel cranked out 18 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, performed a 10 foot-8 inch broad jump, and recorded a 40-inch vertical leap. Based on the results posted at the 2014 combine, those numbers would have ranked ninth, third, and second, respectively, at his position.
Yet the 11 NFL teams, two of which being the Falcons and Browns, that attended Gabriel’s pro day were not impressed enough to spend a draft pick on the spark plug wide receiver. In fact, the best offer he received following the draft was a rookie tryout with the Browns.
This wouldn’t be the first time, however, that Taylor was cast to the wayside. While he received interest from programs such as Georgia, Stanford, and Michigan, Gabriel came up short of the SAT prerequisites during peak recruiting season, effectively eliminating any chance of attending a prestigious football school.
Gabriel ended up settling on Division 2 Abilene Christian University. But before he did, his father Calvin — a former high school standout in his day — had one request of him.
“If you go to Division II,” Calvin said, “you must dominate at that level.” Calvin realized the uphill climb his son would have to the NFL if he chose to play at a Division II school, so if that was the route he was going to take, he had to make sure he was the very best at that level.
Gabriel took his father’s words to heart the moment he stepped foot on campus. Starting on special teams, he cashed in his very first touch 80 yards for a punt return score.
He slowly earned more and more touches on the offensive side which he parlayed into a career that included 215 receptions for 3027 yards and 27 touchdowns.
While other Division II receivers in his class like John Brown (Pittsburg State) and Jeff Janis (Saginaw Valley State) received the bulk of the notoriety, the chip on Gabriel’s 5-foot-8 shoulders grew even larger. That chip has remained with him to this day, as evidenced by the following excerpt from Falcons reporter Andrew Hirsch.
Pretty soon, Gabriel — who now wants to be known as Turbo Taylor — will no longer have to worry about student debt. While only a restricted free agent following this season, a short-term pay increase is in his immediate future, with a longer term deal coming the season after.
If Kyle Shanahan remains with the Falcons and Gabriel continues on his current trajectory, Falcons fans should get used to seeing the fleet-footed number 18 in an Atlanta jersey.
Therefore, it is important we get to know the player behind the facemask. Taylor Gabriel gave us a glimpse of that this past Friday when he participated in the most recent Twitter Takeover on the Atlanta Falcons official Twitter account.
The following are the major highlights from his interactions with the fans:
On what he does in his free time:
The reason he chooses to wear the #18
When asked who his favorite football player of all-time is
One thing most people wouldn’t know about him is…
On who the funniest player on the team is
What his favorite part about being an Atlanta Falcon is