Understanding the role of Taylor Gabriel

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 12: Taylor Gabriel
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 12: Taylor Gabriel /

Taylor Gabriel could be an intriguing signing for the Chicago Bears. How does he fit into their offense?

Taylor Gabriel was not the flashy, splash signing that Allen Robinson was. However, he was a great addition and secondary receiving threat to a big dog such as Robinson. When it comes to Gabriel, his usage will determine just how good this signing can be.

One thing worth noting with Taylor Gabriel is that he has true splits. These splits are with and without Kyle Shanahan. In two of his four seasons, Shanahan called plays, one in Cleveland, one in Atlanta.

Over those two seasons, Gabriel hauled in 72 passes for 1,200 yards, 16.6 per reception and seven touchdowns.  In the two years without him, he had 61 receptions for 619 yards, 10.1 yards per catch and one touchdown. What is it that Kyle Shanahan did to get the most out of him and how is it repeatable for Matt Nagy?

Understanding what Taylor Gabriel is

A team can look at Gabriel and a career 13.8 yards per reception and  16.6 yards per reception with Kyle Shanahan and assume the best usage for Gabriel is down the field. He is a bit smaller framed, he is quick, he is a slot option that can take the top off, many will assume.

However, that is hardly the case. Taylor Gabirel is a yards after the catch (YAC) specialist. In 2016, his last stint with Shanahan, he led all wide receivers with at least 200 yards receiving in yards after the catch per reception. 278 of his 579 yards that season came after the catch.


The key is finding different ways to get Gabriel the ball in space. It takes being creative, but when he gets the ball with blocking or a lane, he is gone.


Gabriel was most effective on screen passes. Three of his eight career touchdown passes came from screen passes. All came from 20 yards out. However, notice how all of them were set up differently.

Below, they motion an extra tight end over. Gabriel is working out of the slot. Julio Jones runs down the field to take his cornerback out. The tight end sprints out into space and Gabriel has a one-on-one matchup with a pulling guard coming. Gabriel uses his vision, shiftiness and breakaway speed to finish the play.

Below, he is lined up to the outside of Mohammed Sanu. Now, the team motions the tight end away from him. The motion brings the outside linebacker back to into the box close enough that the linemen are able to get out and cover him by the time Gabriel gets the pass. Vision again is the dominant strength with Gabriel and the ball in his hands as he evades the initial defender inside, and then bursts to the sideline with speed to finish the run.

Again, a completely different designed screen to get Gabriel the ball in space. Gabriel is once again on the outside and looking to cut up the field to the outside. Then, it is a quick break to the football, where his lineman can get out into space and his slot receiver is already in blocking position.

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While it was not a screen, the same type of misdirection passing allows Gabriel to haul in a fourth touchdown pass near the line of scrimmage. Gabriel starts coming across the line as if he is going to run an end around. However, this, combined with Julio Jones running across the field from the left to right is what helped clear up the entire left side of the field for Gabriel to work. Marcus Peters was able to catch up and pursue Gabriel, but Gabriel is elite with the ball in his hands. He evaded Peters with agility and drove through two linebackers with power to score.

Running abilities

How do you get a team to bite on a fake end around? Show Taylor Gabriel to be proficient at the end around on tape, of course. Over his career, Gabriel has 16 attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Eight for 61 and a touchdown came with Shanahan as his coordinator. With the ball in his hands, he can make things happen.

Below, is the play that will open up the play fake to him. Watch Gabriel let the blowing develop as he cruises across the field.

On top of the end around is the jet sweep, which has him cutting the ball upfield much more intently.

How will Matt Nagy use Taylor Gabriel?

One thing to note about Gabriel is that the vast majority of his routes came from the outside. Mohammed Sanu ran out of the slot a lot in Atlanta. Cameron Meredith profiles similarly to Sanu and has played in the slot before. A three-wide set with Gabriel and Robinson outside and Meredith in the slot should be expected often.

The “how-to” on how to use Taylor Gabriel is a simple formula that takes offensive creativity to perfect. While Gabriel can make plays down the field, those should be more of the well-timed shots. His bread and butter should be revolved around getting the ball in his hands near the line of scrimmage.

Motion is going to be key. Motion was an important factor in getting Trey Burton the ball. It also helped Gabriel, whether it be motioning a tight end towards or away from him, or himself motioning to the line.

This does not even factor in the impact of Tarik Cohen. The ability to motion multiple players causes confusion. The confusion is what gets Gabriel the ball in space. Taylor Gabriel with the ball in space is as deadly as any player in the NFL.

It is very clear that the offense wants to make decisions easier for Mitchell Trubisky and they want to get the ball out of Trubisky’s hands fast. With that philosophy in mind, there is arguably no better fit for the Bears than Taylor Gabriel.