Unheralded WR Malik Taylor quietly remains in contention for role in Packers' plans
GREEN BAY - With Devin Funchess opting out before the start of training camp, the only brand-new members to the 2020 Green Bay Packers’ training camp receiving corps were free-agent signees Reggie Begelton (Canadian Football League) and Malik Turner (Seattle).
Six other receivers on the roster, from Davante Adams to Darrius Shepherd, are relatively known quantities in that they either have draft status with the Packers or have regular-season game film to their name.
Then there is Malik Taylor, who is known only to the Packers' front office and coaches.
He is hoping to change that come cutdown day on Saturday.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Taylor spent all of 2019 on the practice squad after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Ferris State, a Football Championship Subdivision program in Big Rapids, Michigan. He was a bit of a find for the Packers, as he missed most of his senior season in 2018 due to a hamstring injury before returning for the FCS playoffs.
In 2016 and '17, Taylor caught 108 passes for 1,923 yards and 11 touchdowns to get on the radar of NFL scouts.
He did participate in Central Michigan’s pro day in 2019, and he ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and posted a 36-inch vertical leap. In four preseason games last year, Taylor played 28 snaps on offense and had two targets. He played 28 special teams snaps and returned three kickoffs for 61 yards against Baltimore. He didn’t make the Packers out of training camp, but the coaches felt he had tremendous upside and could play physically and would spend the entire year learning the offense on the practice squad.
“What I did when I came out here is I had the mindset to do everything right, to do all the little extra things,” Taylor said. “Obviously, they saw something in me. Thank God. I’m glad that I landed here. Last year, it was a big thing for me to come into the NFL, obviously from a D-II school. Just the mindset you have to have and all the extra things that come with this league. I just came in at practice every day and did perform to the best of my ability. Obviously, they saw something in me.”
Taylor has a different body type than most of the receivers on the team in that only Allen Lazard is heavier at 227 pounds, though Lazard is four inches taller. Only Begelton (6-feet) and Shepherd (5-11) are shorter. If anything, Taylor’s frame is most similar to Adams' (6-1, 215) and Taylor has displayed his speed throughout camp by taking handoffs and darting upfield or using his body to make himself available in tighter coverage.
Taylor also felt it has helped him be the type of run blocker required by the offense and though he’s had some drops, his camp has been solid overall – so much so that he has worked himself into the conversation of making the initial 53-man roster as cutdown day looms.
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“It’s the same mindset as I had last year,” Taylor said. “My mindset is still going out there every day, doing the best that I can, controlling what I can control. I’m sure you guys know that and it probably sounds cliché, but that’s really all you can do is go out there and trust it, play fast, play comfortable, trust your training as coach (Matt) LaFleur always says. The front office does a great job. If they keep you, they keep you. If not, you just have to keep your head up and go to the next thing.”
As general manager Brian Gutekunst and LaFleur try to sort out the back end of the receivers room for 2020, what are they looking for in order to evaluate and separate the bulk of that group from one another? The pair often use the word “consistency,” but for them they want it to come on the finer points of the position, not so much splash plays that would wow a crowd.
“He was with us last year, so he really started to pick up the offense and I think grew with that,” wide receivers coach Jason Vrable said of Taylor. “He's a guy this offseason who just mentally got to kind of take a breath and just hone in on the details of our offense. We always talk about digging at the details and that's what's gonna make you successful. So he comes into training camp and has a better grasp on our offense and what we're asking for.”
Touchdowns and big plays in team settings have been few and far between, even in one-on-one matchups with corners. But, has Taylor’s route running been sharp, whether he’s been free off the line of scrimmage and when adjusted due to coverage? Has his run-blocking been physical and effective? Can he contribute on special teams?
These are the fine line by which Taylor must stand above the others in the room, all of whom have either NFL or CFL experience.
“I just believe you need to trust your training, trust the work that you put in,” he said. “Don’t go out there like you have to do something extravagant, or like you have to go out there and turn an eye. Just go out there and do what you’ve been doing the whole training camp. Like I said, the guys upstairs are great. Obviously they see something in this receiver rom. When it comes down to it, you have to be happy with what happens.”