Things have all come together in the football career of Temple defensive tackle Jullian Taylor and at the most opportune time, right before the NFL draft.
Taylor has capped his best football season with a strong offseason and now, as improbable as it seemed before the season, he will likely hear his name called during the three-day NFL draft, which begins Thursday.
Having missed nearly two full seasons after surgeries on his left knee, Taylor was healthy in his senior season and was at times dominant. The 6-foot-5, 294-pound Taylor wasn't invited to the NFL combine, he has caught the attention of teams.
Taylor has visited nine this offseason: the New York Jets, Tennessee, Atlanta, Seattle, Arizona, Oakland, Cleveland, Houston, and Green Bay. He has had several private workouts, including last week with the New England Patriots. Once considered a draft long shot, Taylor was projected to be a sixth-round pick by CBSSports.com. Not bad for someone who didn't play organized football until his senior year at Williamstown High in South Jersey.
"It feels really good and I feel all the work I have put in came to fruition, especially with all the injuries," Taylor said last week by phone.
The injuries began when Taylor hurt his left knee in Temple's opening 27-10 win over Penn State in 2015. The next season, also against Penn State, Taylor suffered a season-ending injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in that same knee. Renowned surgeon James Andrews performed surgery, and Taylor was ready for the 2017 season.
Temple lost its opener last fall, 49-16, at Notre Dame, but Taylor said he gained confidence by going up against Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, the consensus best offensive lineman in this year's draft.
"A lot of [NFL] people have brought up that Notre Dame game to me," said Taylor, who has received his degree in communications.
Yet nothing could compare to his final regular-season home game. Temple lost, 45-19, to a Central Florida team that would finish the season 13-0, but the Knights simply couldn't block Taylor. He had 10 tackles and 4 1/2 tackles for loss.
"Everything definitely came together in that UCF game," Taylor said. "I think I proved that I was a top prospect in that game."
He then recorded a tackle for loss in his each of his final two games, wins over Tulsa and then FIU in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
As a redshirt senior, Taylor appeared in 12 of Temple's 13 games and recorded 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.
The momentum continued in the offseason. During Temple's pro day in March, he ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.8-second range and bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times.
"He has a lot of ability and has games where he really showed it," said an NFL scout who requested anonymity. "There was not a lot of history before this season, but the Penn State game two years ago was good [before he got hurt] and there have been other encouraging signs."
Taylor, who attended Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia before transferring to Williamstown for his senior year, said he decided to play football after getting cut in baseball and then basketball.
Because of the injuries, he played 20 games for Temple. He says the knee feels great and he is looking forward to finding out his next destination.
"I feel pretty good about the draft, especially talking to a lot of teams," he said. "Knowing that they are interested, I can't wait for the day to come."