Realistically there are only a couple of starting spots up for grabs on the 49ers’ 2018 roster. San Francisco right now has battles going on at right guard and left end. Only one narrative of those two competitions pushed forward after the team’s preseason opener against the Cowboys, and that was the one between former first-round pick Arik Armstead and rookie seventh-round pick Jullian Taylor.
And at this point, the momentum is in the favor of the newcomer.
While Armstead did not suit up to make a case for himself, the very reason he didn’t will be held against him to some degree, as it’s been an issue in his career. He hasn’t been available due to injury. Meanwhile, Taylor (#77) did play and looked quite good in action.
This was one of Taylor's best rushes of the night from a technique standpoint, as he leveraged the push-pull on the tackle's outside shoulder for the QB pressure. While Cowboys Twitter did not hesitate to inform me Chaz Green is not one of the team's better tackles, it doesn't take away too much from Taylor's motion and execution. His power is not flukey.
Taylor, of course, also had the clutch sack in the fourth quarter to help rear the 49ers' comeback win at home.
With three tackles, a sack, a TFL and two QB hits, his performance overall made an impression on defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
"He took a big step," the 49ers DC said of Taylor on Sunday.
"His arrow is going up. He’s doing everything right. He plays violent, relentless. He fought his tail off versus that big O-line with the 1s and he continued every quarter and showed up."
Head coach Kyle Shanahan agreed: "I saw him make a bunch of plays."
What stood out about Taylor besides the consistent push was the motor that went all game. He grew stronger by quarter, which was even more apparent as he was the only player who started and finished. Saleh acknowledged this as well.
During the game he was disruptive on back to back to back plays, doing his job, while showing he could affect the run and the pass. He showed his range as a D-lineman, too, executing different assignments from different alignments and techniques, and operating with a high mental capacity in a handful of situations.
This was a solid rep by Taylor. He hurried the Cooper Rush throw, and pierced the pocket where the quarterback couldn't step up, causing the ball to come out inaccurate and land incomplete in front of his receiver.
The positioning by Taylor on the tackle also allows linebacker Korey Toomer a free rush, speeding up the QB hurry. And lastly, notice Taylor's left arm raise for the attempted batted pass the moment Rush pats the ball signaling the release. That's good recognition by the rookie, he just gets pushed out of the window at the last second.
Taylor also changed his strategy up at the goal in an obvious run situation. With impeccable timing, he knifed in off the snap to trip up 6-foot-2, 228-pound rookie tailback Bo Scarbrough.
This is a heady and instinctive D-line play by a rookie. He led the charge so the 49ers defense would've had a chance at a goal-line stand. And it only capped off his previous flashes on that drive.
Taylor even showed he could eat up double teams and push the pocket with just pure power and leg drive. In this case, he did his job at the right defensive tackle spot, the coverage just wasn't there.
Taylor (6-5, 280) was taken with the 223rd selection in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Temple. He was the 49ers' second-to-last pick this year, and one of two seventh-rounders with receiver Richie James.
Taylor was a captain at Temple, and in his final year with the Owls, he piled up 41 tackles from the defensive line, including 11 for a loss. He also had a game- and career-high 10 tackles in the home finale against No. 15-ranked Central Florida, including a career-best 4.5 tackles for loss.
While he performed, it's worth flagging that he did miss games with injury as a sophomore, junior and senior.
Having not played the sport until his senior year of high school, Taylor was a two-star recruit out Williamstown, New Jersey, according to Rivals. He played defensive end, linebacker and tight end, and in 2012 was featured on a team that went undefeated and won a state championship.
Taylor's very raw, but is learning quickly, and appears to have a natural talent for fighting his way from point A to point B. And practice has transitioned to the game for him. He's been that same disruptive player so far. If he can continue on this trajectory, taking advantage of his opportunities in Armstead's absence, the rookie could feasibly start Week 1 at Minnesota.
Media courtesy Steven Falk/Philly.com, NFL