People make a lot of assumptions based off of size, especially regarding positions in the NFL. There is much ongoing debate about the Strong Safety position on the San Diego Chargers and who is going to fill that role, for now and the future. Some have said that it will be Brandon Taylor when he recovers from injury. Others have said that it will be Marcus Gilchrist, since he is currently working there now.
Is size a major factor in the position? In the past, the role of Free (or Weak) Safety was to line up on the side away from the Tight End (hence the term Weak Safety). The main role was to help patrol and cover the deep field. Typically, the Free Safety was the "ball-hawk" and better at coverage than the Strong Safety because of his speed, athleticism, and quickness (in comparison to the Strong Safety). The Strong Safety was lined up on the same side as the Tight End (again, same reasoning for the term Strong Safety). His main role was to provide run support and/or cover the Tight End and/or Backs coming out of the backfield. He needed more size and power to hold up when providing run support and to match up well with the Tight End. Some may have referenced this type to a smaller Linebacker.
The latest trend in the NFL seems to be going towards Safeties that can play either Free Safety or Strong Safety. This has been the case with the Chargers for a few years.
Here's a snippet from an article from the UT written in 2009:
There has been little difference in the past between the safety positions in the Chargers defense...
So let's look at the size of the two guys that have been at the center of ongoing Safety debate:
Height: 5-11 Weight: 209
40 yard dash time: 4.50
Height: 5-10 Weight: 193
40 yard dash time: 4.45 seconds
At first glance, you can see the obvious differences in size. Taylor has an inch on Gilchrist, which probably matters naught. There is, however, a 16 lb. weight differential. Taylor is 209 to Gilchrist's 193. Does this really matter? The size difference doesn't seem to make very much of a difference on the respective speed of each player. Taylor's 40 time is only 0.05 seconds slower than Gilchrist. Let's look at some other Safeties and see how they compare.
Height: 5-11 Weight: 208
40 yard dash time: 4.46 seconds
Stuckey is almost the same exact size as Taylor (there's a 1 lb. difference between the two). Does this mean that Taylor and Stuckey can only play Strong Safety, as opposed to the dual-role Safety that the Chargers have employed for the last few years? Well, no. First off, the Chargers drafted both of these guys, so if they didn't fit their ideal of what their Safeties can do, they would have never been drafted. Plus, Stuckey's 40 time is only 0.01 slower than Gilchrist. If you doubt his speed, check him out as the gunner on Special Teams--he's fast. Also, and more importantly, Stuckey has played BOTH Safety positions for the Chargers. Originally, he played Strong Safety, and then was switched to Free Safety to back up Weddle. Speaking of Weddle...
Height: 5-11 Weight: 200
40 yard dash time: 4.48 seconds
Weddle is just 9 lbs. lighter than Taylor. Is that huge? I doubt it since last year's starting CB, Quentin Jammer, is listed as 4-5 lbs. heavier than Weddle. Also, it should be noted that Weddle has played both positions in his time as a Charger. Size is apparently not a factor when it comes to Weddle. He may be right about the prototypical size, albeit a hair short, you want from your Free Safety.
But these are all Chargers! What about outside players? Let's look at a player a lot of people were hoping the Chargers would draft this year, Kenny Vaccaro.
Height 6-1 Weight: 218
40 yard dash time: 4.63 seconds
Looking at the numbers, Vaccaro looks more like the old-school Strong Safety. He's bigger than Taylor, and quite a bit bigger than Gilchrist. Plus, his speed is a bit slower than any of the other Safeties, coming in at 0.16 slower than Taylor. His measurables look a little like another former Charger...
Height: 6-1 Weight: 220
40-yard dash: 4.82
Granted, Vaccaro probably prays his career will end up anything like Harrison's. And, he'd be extremely lucky if it did. But, let's look at the measurables. All of these guys are just about the same height, so that doesn't seem to be that much of a factor. Harrison, however, is the heaviest thus far, coming in at 220 lbs. He weighs 27 more lbs. than Gilchrist and 11 more than Taylor. But, he is only 2 lbs. heavier than Vaccaro. He is, though, markedly slower. His 4.82 is pretty slow, comparatively. Harrison was the prototypical, old-school Strong Safety, though. His role was different than what the Chargers employ now.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 227
40 Yard Dash: 4.80
Now here's the guy who seems like a smaller linebacker, sort of. His size is not really that much smaller than a linebacker. Maybe this (and the drugs) is why he washed out of the league so fast. He just didn't fit into a modern NFL Safety role and was too small to actually play linebacker.
So, for those who have assessed Brandon Taylor as the following:
He's very stiff. He doesn't have very fluid hips....
He's just kind of like a smaller linebacker.
I don't see any evidence in of either of those assessments in the numbers. Nor do I, especially when I look at his college highlights (with the added caveat that they are highlights, not coaching tape).
Brandon Taylor LSU Career Highlight (via LSUTigersFB .)
But, there are others who actually scouted Taylor before he was drafted and here are some small samples of their analysis:
Athletic free safety prospect who can play center field, but also come up and play a physical game...
Best suited to play in a zone scheme, as he struggles a little bit in man to man coverage.
From ESPNDallas' Tim MacMahon and Bryan Broaddus:
Has the strong safety build but also shows free safety traits, which will give him an opportunity in this league.
Some of you were thinking that Taylor only fits one role, based off of his size. Maybe it's time to rethink what you were thinking.