Ryan Taylor finished his college career in style, but one coach who knows him well guarantees he’ll look at it as a beginning and not an end.
With three games to go as a North Carolina senior, Taylor – the jack-of-all-trades who excelled on special teams as well as played tight end and linebacker for the Tar Heels – hadn’t posted more than three catches or 34 receiving yards in any given game.
Then, with his college days winding down and fellow tight end Zack Pianalto out with an injury, Taylor suddenly emerged as the go-to offensive guy he had never been.
Against rival North Carolina State, he had five catches for 57 yards. One week later, against another in-state foe in Duke, it was six catches for 75 yards. Finally, in the bowl game and his swan song, he topped his career bests for a third straight contest, with nine receptions for 85 yards.
“The Music City Bowl,” North Carolina tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Allen Mogridge said. “Grab your bowl of popcorn, turn the thing on and watch it, if you want to get a picture of Ryan Taylor. He was a warrior in that game.
“You talk about tough. He played on special teams. He played on offense, almost every snap. When you watch the catches he made, in traffic with a dude hanging on him, he really showed up in big spots.”
Taylor caught five passes of at least 10 yards, with four picking up first downs, in North Carolina’s thrilling, double-OT victory over Tennessee.
Efforts like that, combined with his special-teams prowess, made Taylor too tempting for the Packers to pass up in the seventh round of this year’s draft, even though they had already selected another tight end in Arkansas’ D.J. Williams in the fifth round.
With so much depth at the position – the Packers added the two tight ends to a stable that already includes Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree – Taylor’s path to a roster spot is almost certainly via special teams, and that will be just fine with him.
He was a special-teams captain in two different seasons in college, the two sandwiched around his lost 2009 (knee injury). Mogridge called him “reckless” on the coverage units – reckless in an intense, fiery, nobody’s-going-to-stand-in-my-way fashion.
“He came to us and said, ‘I want to be on all of the big four,’” Mogridge said, referring to the return and coverage units for both punts and kickoffs. “He takes a lot of pride in what he puts on film. Any time you turned on the cut-ups, you knew.”
Mogridge added that special teams was how Taylor “found his niche and found his way” in college, so unlike many draft picks, being forced to take the same approach in the NFL won’t require a psychological adjustment.
“I think there’s a tremendous quality in knowing your place in the world sometimes,” Mogridge said. “I think he’s a humble kid and I think he’s going to come to work. He understands the opportunity, but he also understands the responsibility and what it’s going to take.”
In that sense, Mogridge likens Taylor to another Packers late-round draft pick he happened to coach, running back James Starks, a sixth-rounder in 2010.
Mogridge was the running backs coach at Buffalo for Starks’ freshman season and the offensive line coach the following two years, when Starks averaged 1,200 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns over 2007-08 for the Buffaloes.
A shoulder injury cost Starks his senior season and dropped him down draft boards but, when he finally got healthy last year, he showed he belonged. Fortunately for Taylor, he had a year left after his season-ending knee injury in ’09 or he probably wouldn’t have been drafted at all, but the mentality to prove himself as a rookie will be similar.
“With those two kids, true blue-collar type guys, that’s a little bit of the fuel that goes into their fire,” Mogridge said.
In other words, no way Taylor rests on that flashy finish of a year ago.
“I’m telling you right now, I will be shocked if somebody doesn’t look up and that kid is catching balls on the JUGS a long time after everybody else is gone,” Mogridge said. “I would be shocked if somebody didn’t walk by a meeting room and that dude is sitting there watching film long after everybody else is gone.
“He’s one of those kinds of guys.”
For more feature stories on the 2011 draft class, click here.