TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State cornerback Levonta Taylor doesn’t look the part. The junior is generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds.
Not that those numbers interest him. The stats he focuses are 0 and 1 — as in no touchdowns he allowed in 2017 and his jersey number.
Taylor temporarily lost his valuable No. 1 when coach Willie Taggart took away all of the single-digit numbers for Florida State players in the spring, summer and start of preseason camp.
But Taylor is proudly wearing No. 1 again.
“He’s a great DB, one of the best in the country,” Taggart said. “Great young man, as well. He brings a lot to our team not only on the football field but off the football field. He’s one of the better teammates on the team.”
It was confirmation that Taggart recognizes Taylor as a “dude,” the coach’s definition for a player worthy of a single-digit number.
“Back to being a ‘dude,’” Taylor said while wearing an oversized “1” on a gold chain. “I’m happy to have my number back. Like he said, ‘If you work hard for your number, you’ll get it back. And if you don’t, you’ll know why.’”
He’ll get his chance to validate his coach’s decision when the 19th-ranked Seminoles host No. 20 Florida State on Sept. 3.
Taylor has built a college resume on hard work, refining his technique for the weekly battles against taller and sometimes stronger receivers. He started all of Florida State’s games last season but made just 18 tackles and two interceptions.
Not overly impressive stats, but quarterbacks don’t throw his way.
Taylor allowed just 13 receptions, an average of one per game, in 2017 and didn’t allow a touchdown in 379 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the most snaps without allowing a touchdown pass among Atlantic Coast Conference cornerbacks.
But Taylor wasn’t named to last year’s All-ACC team or the preseason all-conference team. He was named a preseason All-American by ESPN.com but otherwise was shut out. He feels part of that is a byproduct of the Seminoles’ underwhelming 7-6 season in 2017.
“I feel like I’m underrated,” Taylor said. “People know about me. They know I have great feet. They know I’m a great corner. It’s just that we had a bad season last year. When you have a bad season, nobody is watching the games, having publicity on social media. Other teams, they probably had a corner that really wasn’t good like that but they were winning so it bumps them up, hypes them up.”
Taylor doesn’t have the prototype size of a shut-down corner. But he plays like one. Florida State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett saw how good Taylor was this offseason.
“He’s stronger than you think he is,” Barnett said. “Obviously he’s fast and he has a lot of confidence in himself. He does take pride in his game getting better, paying attention to the details. The technique things that you need to do. He pays attention to them and tries to work on them daily, which helps his game continue to rise and rise and rise.”
Taylor’s NFL stock could continue to rise and he could become the next in a long line of Seminoles defensive backs who have transitioned to the league, including Jalen Ramsey, Derwin James, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams.
“It is easy to see the natural talent,” NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “He is twitched up and has the supreme confidence required for the position. He looks comfortable moving in reverse and works hard to stay within arms’ length with receivers.”