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Florida Gators in the NFL, Week 17: On Kyle Pitts, superstar, and Jawaan Taylor, stalwart

A Gator is among the NFL’s top rookies for the 2021 season. But a recent Gator shows reliability can be valuable, too.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The last in-season report from Shawn Kopelakis will get to Kyle Pitts. Just wait.

Equipment malfunction. Broken leg. Bathroom break that takes a little longer than expected. Poked in the eye. Benched. Concussion. Hell, it can happen if you’re slow getting up and the trainer comes out to check on you.

There are so many ways you can miss a snap in the National Football League.

But since being drafted in the second round in 2019, Jawaan Taylor has started all 48 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars — and hasn’t missed a single snap. Through Week 17, Taylor has now participated in all 3,146 snaps the Jags’ offense has taken since he entered the league.

Now, Taylor isn’t a Pro Bowl caliber player — in fact, he’s tied for the fifth most penalties in the league with 10 and ranked among the bottom third of right tackles by Pro Football Focus. Jags fans complain on Twitter a lot about his play. But he’s consistent in that he’s always available. And availability is huge in the NFL, especially in the time of Covid-19.

The all-time record for consecutive snaps played is 10,363 by future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Joe is a colleague on Thursday Night Football and he’s told us about playing through pain, injuries, and losing season after losing season, yet still taking immense pride in doing your job every week.

Taylor isn’t in the same universe as Thomas of course, but you have to imagine the losing in Jacksonville weighs on him all the same. Yet every time the Jags snap the ball on offense, Taylor is on the field. Just look how he compares to other top picks from 2019.

Browns All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio hasn’t missed a snap since 2016 and has the longest current streak at 5,305. Carolina’s Taylor Moton is second with 4,270 straight dating back to 2018. Like Taylor, San Francisco’s Laken Tomlinson hasn’t missed a snap in the past three seasons and sits at 3,179 consecutively. Taylor is currently fourth among active players. All of these streaks are incredible.

We hype the great and the spectacular as we should. (See: Pitts, Kyle, and the next section of this article.) But every now and then, it’s worth taking some time to notice the consistent, constant, and steady.

In a league that churns and chews up even transcendent athletes, being on the field for every play might be a more impressive feat, albeit in a lower key, than any highlight touchdown or sack.

The Weekly Kyle Pitts Tracker

Speaking of spectacular: Last Sunday, Kyle Pitts became the first rookie tight end to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in 60 years with one of the year’s best stiff arms.

The full catch-and-run sequence shouldn’t be overlooked, either. He creates separation right away from corner Dane Jackson on the drag route, reaches back to catch the inaccurate pass, and then buries safety Micah Hyde into the snow before outrunning everyone for another 40 yards after the stiff arm.

Pitts is now 59 yards away from breaking Mike Ditka’s rookie tight end receiving yards mark. He’s the only rookie tight end ever with 65+ grabs and over 1,000 yards. He broke Julio Jones’ Falcons’ rookie receiving mark. And he set a new rookie high by a former Gator, surpassing Cris Collinsworth’s 1,009 yards from 1981.

Pitts has lived up to the lofty preseason expectations, but some are expecting even more in the years to come. Like Travis Kelce.

Pitts hurt his hamstring in the second quarter last week. He missed practice early in the week and was limited Thursday and Friday. He’s officially questionable but did say he was feeling good and expected to play. We’ll probably have to check on Sunday morning to see whether he gets his shot at Ditka’s record.

The Freak’s Record Remains

Another superstar rookie this season is Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. He is a lock for rookie defensive player of the year. Why mention the former Penn State star here in our Gators recap? Well there is this connection to Pitts.

As of last Sunday, Parsons was closing in on the rookie sack record. Unfortunately, he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Cowboys’ regular season finale on Saturday. (They, uh, survived, thanks largely to a QB developed by some guy Florida once hired.)

That means Gators legend Jevon Kearse’s rookie mark of 14.5 sacks from 1999 will stand for at least another season.

Injuries eventually caught up to the Freak, but his days at UF and his first three seasons in the NFL were dominant.

And just think: If Kevin Dyson gets into the end zone at the end of that year’s Super Bowl against the Rams, Kearse’s rookie season would have ended with him having collected both a national championship — he was an All-SEC Freshman Team selection in 1996 — and a Super Bowl ring, all before the age of 24.

Player of the Week

Marcell Harris had a good junior season in Gainesville and was expected to be one of the Gators’ team leaders in 2017. But he tore his Achilles prior to the season and missed his entire senior year. Instead of returning for a sixth year, he bet on himself, entered the NFL draft, and was picked in the sixth round by San Francisco.

His pro career started on injured reserve while he continued his rehab. He made his NFL debut in November of 2018, started the final five games of the season, and played decent for a late-round rookie coming off a significant injury.

After a couple of seasons as a backup and occasional starter at strong safety, Harris has transitioned to linebacker and found himself a bigger role with the 49ers. He has set career highs in starts and tackles, and registered his first career sack in Week 8.

This past week, Harris had his best game as a pro with 10 tackles and his first career interception.

Harris is never going to be a superstar, but the former safety seems like a better fit at linebacker where his physicality and lateral quickness shine, and his weaker coverage skills aren’t as commonly exploited.

Play of the Week

Did you know Demarcus Robinson is the master of the Dino route?

The Dino is a double post route with the slot receiver running across the face of the deep safety while the X receiver outside releases hard directly up the field, faints to the corner, and then breaks back to the post.

Robinson is a reliable blocker on the edge in the Chiefs’ highly effective screen game, but he’s seen his own opportunities in the passing attack diminish this year. Grabbing his third touchdown of the season and 14th of his career with a pretty route was a nice way to remind Patrick Mahomes he can be counted on when Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce aren’t open.

Here are all of the Gators’ Week 17 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Marcell Harris, SF, LB/S

Week 17: 10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defended, 55 snaps (82%)

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 17: 2/2 FG, Long 46, 4/4 XP, 3rd game-winning FG this season

  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, NO, S

Week 17: 1 INT, 1 sack, 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defended, 52 snaps (85%)

  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE

Week 17: 2 rec, 69 yards, 27 snaps (51%), left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury

  • Demarcus Robinson, KC, WR

Week 17: 2 rec, 33 yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return, 3 yards, 39 snaps (64%)

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 17: 4 rec, 63 yards, 31 snaps (53%)

  • Freddie Swain, SEA, WR

Week 17: 2 rec, 65 yards, 2 punt returns, 2.5 avg, 36 snaps (50%)

  • Joe Haden, PIT, CB

Week 17: 4 tackles, 1 pass defended, 69 snaps (97%)

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 17: 72 snaps (100%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., ATL, OLB

Week 17: 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hit, 40 snaps (53%)

  • Max Garcia, ARI, C/G

Week 17: 76 snaps (100%)

  • Janoris Jenkins, TEN, CB

Week 17: 4 tackles, 1 pass defended, 54 snaps (87%)

  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE

Week 17: 2 tackles, 37 snaps (60%)

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 17: 47 snaps (100%)

The Limited

  • Carlos Dunlap, SEA, DE

Week 17: 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 15 snaps (24%)

  • Eddy Pineiro, NYJ, K

Week 17: 1/1 FG, Long 51, 3/3 XP

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 17: 1 punt return, 18 yards, 1 kick return, 18 yards

  • T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 17: no stats, 21 DEF snaps (39%), 10 ST snaps (37%)

  • Taven Bryan, JAX, DE

Week 17: 1 tackle, 16 DEF snaps (22%), 8 ST snaps (30%)

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 17: 3 punts, 36.0 avg

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 17: 9 ST snaps (28%)

  • David Sharpe, BAL, T

Week 17: 5 ST snaps (22%)

  • Fred Johnson, CIN, G/T

Week 17: 5 snaps (7%)

  • Vernon Hargreaves III, CIN, CB

Week 17: no stats, 3 ST snaps (10%)

  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 17: Active but did not play with knee and shoulder injuries

The Inactive

  • Keanu Neal, DAL, LB: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Jarrad Davis, NYJ, LB: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Jonathan Bullard, ATL, DL: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Josh Hammond, JAX, WR: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Lerentee McCray, JAX, OLB: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Jabari Zuniga, NYJ, DE: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR: Inactive (Shoulder)
  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB: Inactive (Shoulder)
  • Shawn Davis, GB, S: Inactive
  • La’mical Perine, NYJ, RB: Inactive
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, QB: Inactive
  • Teez Tabor, CHI, S: Injured Reserve (Ankle)
  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB: Injured Reserve (Shoulder)
  • Marcus Maye, NYJ, S: Injured Reserve (Achilles)
  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB/TE: Injured Reserve (Collarbone)
  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB: Injured Reserve (Chest)
  • Jonotthan Harrison, NYG, OL: Injured Reserve (Achilles)
  • Quincy Wilson, NYG, CB: Injured Reserve (Ankle)
  • Bryan Cox, Jr., BUF, DE: Injured Reserve (Achilles)

The Practice Squad

  • Jordan Scarlett, MIA, RB
  • Brian Poole, IND, CB
  • Duke Dawson, DEN, CB
  • Jon Halapio, SF, G
  • Donovan Stiner, PIT, S
  • Chaz Green, PIT, T
  • Brett Heggie, LV, G/T (Signed last week, released this week)