Levonta Taylor is a versatile defensive back entering the NFL Draft this season out of Florida State. He was the number one corner prospect coming out of high school and ranked as the number five player in the nation. Taylor suffered a fracture in his L5 vertebrae but focused on the “bounce back” in 2019. He has shown impressive versatility playing outside corner, nickel, and safety. We discussed his play on the field, how he got to Florida State, and what he would do lined up opposite Michael Thomas.
Ross Jackson: So let’s start off with a little about you. You came up in Virginia, what brought you out to Florida State?
Levonta Taylor: Just from God blessing me to have the opportunity to play against other guys in the 2015 class. Me going to The Opening early and competing at other camps early with the 2015 class. I started building great relationships with guys like Derwin James, Da’Vante Phillips, Deondre Francois, George Campbell... All of those guys. And then I [originally] went to Oscar Smith High School where Josh Sweat went, too. Then I transferred over to Ocean Lakes where Derrick Nnadi went to and you know, those guys went to Florida State as well. So what was supposed to happen was I was supposed to go down south and visit Florida State, then drive to Gainesville, then drive to Miami. Then I was going to drive back up and hit LSU and Alabama and then go back home. But you know, for some reason, when I went to that Florida State visit everything just... It just seemed right for me. So I made that decision and I didn’t turn back. I didn’t take any visits anymore, I didn’t even talk to any more coaches. I stayed loyal to Florida State.
RJ: How much did they pitch Deion Sanders to you before you signed on?
LT: When I took the visit there, you know, Deion Sanders is everywhere. Everybody knows Neon Deion, so they didn’t really have to pitch him that much to me. I feel like when you’re a great player some programs don’t make you. You’re already...you’re just great. You know, just keep being you and that’s what happened. That’s why I feel like when I went there they didn’t really pitch Deion Sanders to me even though they mentioned him a couple of times. They were really just showing me the way they could use me in the defense. They pulled it up on this big board, highlights of myself and what I did and what other guys did previous years at Florida State and showed me how they could use me and I liked that.
RJ: So they were showing you what your fit was and they were putting the vision in front of you. I love that.
LT: Correct, because like... the crazy thing about it is that I was never supposed to be an outside corner at Florida State. When I first came in with Jimbo Fisher, they ran the nickel defense, 3-3-5, 4-2-5, stuff like that. I wanted to go to Florida State just to play “STAR,” they called it. I was so close to committing to LSU when they offered me, I wanted to commit that same day just because Tyrann Mathieu is my favorite player. The way LSU used him, when I took that visit at Florida State, when I felt comfortable that’s how I wanted to be used like Tyrann Mathieu and that’s all I wanted to play. It just so happened that when I started practicing, the coaches loved the way I competed in man-to-man situations. So that’s why Jimbo pushed me to play outside corner. He replaced somebody else and moved me to outside corner.
RJ: So did that become the preference for you? Did you enjoy getting to play on the outside?
LT: Yeah because I felt like at Florida State for me to play nickel it was just a no-brainer. The Nickel that was there, he left and he was gone. And plus Jalen Ramsey; he left. He primarily played nickel at Florida State. You watch film, Jalen didn’t really play corner, he played strictly nickel. Nickel and safety. His freshman year, when he came in he came in as a safety but they moved him to corner because P.J. Williams had a thigh bruise. So he started as a true freshman and as the season went on, Jalen played strictly safety. Then his sophomore year he played every game at nickel. He didn’t play corner or safety, everything was at nickel. Then the following year they needed him at boundary corner so that’s what they did. So, you know, when I came in I was like “Yeah I want to play nickel” because they were using their nickels the right way. They’re the ones making the plays. They make more plays than the corners. Just as far as like blitzing, taking on blocks, setting the edge, making good tackles, covering, making interception. I feel like at nickel you can make more game-changing plays.
RJ: We’ve talked about you as this guy that’s versatile and can fit those roles. Playing safety as well. When we talk about all of that, what are some things you feel like aren’t discussed about your game enough.
LT: I’d say I have a great IQ.
RJ: 140 on the SPARQ test, y’all. That’s no joke.
LT: Yeah! My IQ is good, I know, just me watching film and studying receivers, I know what they’re going to do. First and foremost I’m going to compete. Any way I can, no matter what. Even when I had a bad year, playing on my L5. I still had to compete. It was just those one or two plays that just looked bad that everybody watches. But if you look at my film deep down, you’ll see receivers are really not getting open on me.
RJ: Do you feel like you got more comfortable in zone coverage when you played more of the safety roles and did that help you at corner at all?
LT: It was very different for me because I’m used to being close to the receiver playing press-man a lot of the times. So me just being 15 yards deep from the ball, it was just a different view for me.
RJ: You mentioned Tyrann Mathieu and I see you on Twitter retweeting Marshon Lattimore... Who are some of those guys you model your game after in the pros?
LT: Like you said, Tyrann Mathieu. Lately I’ve been trying to look at other nickels. Really I’ve mostly been looking at the nickels that have been getting paid a lot, really.
RJ: Uh huh. Smart
LT: From the Indianapolis Colts, [Kenny] Moore. I’ve been looking at him. I’ve been looking at the nickel from the Steelers Mike [Hilton]. I’ve seen him, he’s been doing a pretty good job there for the Steelers. I’ve seen Chauncey [Garner-Johnson]. I watch the Saints a lot. I’ve been seeing he’s been doing pretty good whenever he’s at nickel or they send him on a blitz. I remember when the Dolphins had paid their nickel, they had moved him to safety, as a matter of fact this past year. [Bobby] McCain. He was more of a nickel for one year then I seen they tried him at outside corner and last year they had him at free safety or something like that. But now I see they’re moving him back to a corner/nickel.
I like to look at people almost my size. I’l say the difference between me and the other guys at nickel is I’m a lot faster than those guys.
RJ: You can see that on your film too. And you mentioned The Opening earlier where you ran a 4.34. Which is just insane. You pack that speed and physicality and you’ve figured out a way to make that work across these positions and make it work in the nickel which is what you’re looking to do. The other this is that with the ball in your hand, you’re dangerous. You’ve got the two interception returns for touchdowns. You had the big punt returns in the Under Armour game as well. Is special teams something that’s within your purview as well?
LT: Yeah, you know special teams is the only role on the entire football team you gotta make special. Why not make special teams special? I just feel like making an impact. I remember watching Tyrann Mathieu when he was first training for the NFL when got suspended. That following year when he got caught up, I remember watching an interview and he was saying something like why not making 100 tackles at gunner? Why not do this? Why not do this in special teams? Late round picks? You know you got to get it out the mud. Put trust in the coaches, and teams, and teammates, stuff like that. I just feel like special teams, that’s what it’s for.
RJ: It’s so important too, that third element of the game. It can blow games wide open and it’s a direct route to the roster sometimes. Going back to defense do you have a particular wide receiver in the NFL that you’d be excited to matchup with? Whether it’s somebody that you’ve met before in college play or just somebody that you’ve watched in the NFL?
LT: Well I have a good relationship actually with [Saints receiver] Michael Thomas. I’ve been talking to him for like a year or year and a half now. I’d love to line up against him because he’s the best receiver in the NFL so why not line up against the best?
RJ: When you watch a guy like Michael Thomas and see his hand quickness, his hands a receiver, his route-running capabilities, what is it that you can do as a defensive back to try to limit those types of wide receivers?
LT: Well with him, since he’s so much of a big-bodied receiver, what I would do if the coach allowed me to I would play off-man on him and I would sit on him and trust my speed. Because sometimes you don’t want to get into fights with a big-bodied receiver at the line of scrimmage with my size because I don’t want him to push off of me. And because you never know if the referee’s gonna throw that flag or not. So I would play off and try to sit on routes, stuff like that.
RJ: What are some of the things you learn from talking to players that’ve made the transition from college to the pros?
LT: Just me being blessed to go to Florida State, I have good relationships with Derwin James, Jalen Ramsey, and I talk to a lot of other guys that are in the NFL as well and other top-notch guys at DB too. Just talking ball with them. When I talk to Jalen, just seeing him play safety, nickel, corner, sub linebacker sometimes, just talking to him about being versatile and different. I just learn a lot more from him because, you know, he wasn’t a great corner at Florida State his junior year. He just came into the league and just got better. So he told me what that process was like for him. And Derwin’s still just telling me about the receivers that they match up against and how to play them and stuff like that.
RJ: Do you ever pick up information from guys that don’t play your position?
LT: Yes. I have a lot of, matter of fact, old school players that came through Virginia. Like Michael Vick. Allen Iverson, you know Iverson played basketball, but he was actually a great football player too. So just talking to them and learning different things from there and just talking ball, you know? Hearing the stories of what they have done and what they’ve been through. I just always soak it up.
RJ: Alright let’s jump over a few personal things. You mentioned Allen Iverson and him playing both basketball and football. Are there any other spots that you love as well?
LT: Yeah, I have a love for track and boxing. I used to have love for basketball too, but I stopped playing basketball, dude.
RJ: Oh, really?
LT: I’m not tall, but I like just playing basketball. But then I really stopped once I started getting, you know, having a better relationship with the game of football and being known as a real good football player. I just didn’t want risk no injury. I remember one time in middle school for our championship track meet, little like the day or two before I had rolled my ankle playing basketball.
RJ: Oh no...
LT: Yeah, but I still ended up still running though, I couldn’t miss that.
RJ: Right. but you don’t want to do that multiple times.
LT: Yeah, those rolled ankles... them things hurt!
RJ: Right! and it’s one of those things to where you’ll do it and then a couple days later, you’ll do it again.
LT: Yeah and by that time in middle school like... cryotherapy was out but it would have been hard for me... Growing up we didn’t really have a lot of recovery stuff like that. All we know was “take ibuprofen and sit in some ice.” We didn’t have no recovery like that.
RJ: You ever have any cajun or creole cuisine?
LT: Oh yeah, you know in Virginia we got a lot of seafood out here. My grandmother, she’s always whipping up that Jambalaya. Crazy thing about that, I never have tried crawfish yet.
RJ: I was gonna ask about crawfish, would you be down?
LT: Yeah, I’d be down! I just don’t know how to eat it or nothing. I see a lot of people, they order pounds and pounds of it. I’m just waiting on my day to try it.
RJ: Got to try beignets too. Probably good for your offseason diet, but not your in season diet at all.
LT: Yeah, I’ve been on no sugar. I’m trying to shred up right now, make everything look good. I also might be throwing a little Pro Day video too, depending on the weather out here in Virginia. Because it’s been raining and cold almost every day out here right now. We’re just trying to figure that out. It’s hard to get a feel with this virus, everybody’s starting to shut down.
RJ: I was going to ask, what’s this process been like? This is kinda unprecedented for everybody. What are some of the things you’re doing to stay on team’s lists?
LT: Just working hard doing DB drills and stuff like that. As we’re talking now, I’m doing one-on-one stuff right now just on the phone. We’re out here just working before everything gets shut down. Then I’ll go to [the store] and try to by a bench press, barbells, and dumbbells to just have in the house.
RJ: Last question man, just a fun one. What’s your favorite album that you’re listen to right now?
LT: My Turn by Lil Baby
RJ: Yeah. I ain’t mad at you for that. That’s the workout jam, too?
LT; Yeah, I listen to Lil Baby every day. Every day. I listen to NBA Youngboy too, though. He’s nice. Yeah he’s tough.
Keep an eye out for Levonta’s pro day video when he is able to film and release that. Don’t forget to also throw him a follow on Twitter as well @LevontaTaylor, and you can always follow Canal Street Chronicles at @SaintsCSC and me @RossJacksonNOLA.