Out Of The Shadows: Taylor Hart, Oregon
The Oregon Ducks are known for many things: fast-paced offense, tons of offensive weapons and cool jerseys, just to name a few. However Oregon defensive players are often overlooked, despite their ability to contain some of the high-flying offenses in the Pac-12. Players like Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan and Haloti Ngata are currently making an impact in the NFL, while Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a well-regarded 2014 NFL Draft prospect. Much like Ngata and Jordan, Taylor Hart has a chance to make an impact on an NFL defense.
Hart is a 6-foot-6, 287-pound defensive end in the midst of his redshirt senior season at Oregon, coming off a career year in 2012 with 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Hart is a long, athletic lineman who projects best to play defensive end in a 3-4 system. He displays a good first step and a great motor, attributes he combines with his long arms and consistently good hand strike. Hart has shown the ability to play with his hand in the dirt or as a stand-up rusher, making him a valuable piece on any defense that likes to show multiple looks.
Hart also plays much faster than most 285-pounders do, likely due to his situation at Oregon. He is also starting to string together good games against top-flight talent. This past week, Hart totaled five tackles and a pass defensed against Tennessee, which gives him 14 total tackles this season, following a career-high 36 last season. Although Hart is not the most polished pass rusher, he showed in 2012 that he is improving as a pass rusher, nearly doubling the 4.5 sacks he had in his first two seasons. Hart has continued to improve this season, and even though he only has one sack so far, he has delivered consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, including a big hit on Tennessee's Justin Worley on third down to force a punt.
While Oregon's defense might never overshadow its offense, this season's success could hinge on how the defense stops opponents like Stanford. And that could fall squarely on the shoulders of prop prospects such as Taylor Hart.