The next undrafted star in Green Bay? It could be RB Patrick Taylor...
This front office has been under attack all offseason but the GMs here always seem to find diamonds in the rough. Meet the next player bound to break out. This running back lived it all at Memphis.
There was physical pain. A lot of pain. But anything he felt in his foot paled in comparison to a totally different feeling: Irrelevance.
Patrick Taylor was a force at Memphis.
In a crowded backfield, he still ripped defenses for 1,988 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns his sophomore and junior seasons. He averaged north of 5.5 yards per carry. The plan as a senior, in 2019, was to dominate. To work his way into that first or second round on draft day.
With a torn ligament in his foot, however, he missed eight games.
The wait was torture.
“When you’re not playing,” Taylor says on a Zoom call with Go Long, “and on the field and scoring touchdowns and running the ball, people forget about you. … I’m used to getting the ball in my hands and scoring touchdowns. Getting the praise. I’m not a ‘praise guy,’ but it’s tough. People can say whatever they want but when you’re not out there? And not scoring touchdowns? And people aren’t saying your name like, ‘Oh, Patrick Taylor!’ That stuff’s tough, man. That’s tough to deal with.”
Even worse, he wasn’t himself when he returned.
Taylor looks down at his foot and memories resurface.
“This thing,” he says, “has been through hell and back.”
Now that he’s back? This second-year running back has a realistic shot to be the next undrafted star in Green Bay.
This is one element to the Green Bay Packers’ oft-criticized #WayOfDoingBusiness that’s been all but forgotten through the apoplectic media coverage this summer: No other franchise finds talent in such implausible places.
So much of what Ron Wolf, Ted Thompson and Brian Gutekunst have done as general managers seems to be under attack so, hey, it’s time to celebrate what they’ve done better than anyone else.
It’s true that the No. 1 reason the Packers have made the playoffs more than anyone else since 1992 (tying New England) is the fact they’ve seamlessly transitioned from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers to yes… yes… eventually, Jordan Love. (A good thing, by the way!) It’s also true this is an old-school operation where GMs draft players, coaches coach players and players play. But since their resurrection three decades ago, the Packers have also possessed an uncanny ability to mine for star-level talent in later rounds and, yes, even undrafted free agency. Right now, these are the names critics trash in full-throated defense of the QB. Yet while it’s commonplace to say the QB is the one making everyone else out to be better than they are, what if everyone else is, in fact, good?
Undrafted players have played prominent roles for the Packers for years. So many have shattered the odds. George Koonce. Ryan Longwell. Ryan Grant. John Kuhn. Tramon Williams. Sam Shields. Cullen Jenkins. On the current roster, tight end Robert Tonyan and wideout Allen Lazard are now sticking as starters.
Do not be surprised if Taylor is the next player to break through.
He’s talented, of course. This 6-foot-2, 217-pound slasher of a runner demoralized defenses with a blend of patience and power. Maybe nobody even noticed but Memphis became RB U these last few years. At one point, they had five NFL running backs in the same locker room. Taylor may have been the best of the bunch, too.
Yet what really makes you believe in Taylor is the mental toughness it took to get here.
That’s how the Tramons of seasons past became local legends. You’re hardened through real adversity. The kind that destroys everyone else. Taylor knows this team has a rich history of giving guys like him a legit shot to play. He witnessed it himself his redshirt rookie season in 2020. It wasn’t just Tonyan and Lazard, either, fueling the NFL’s highest-scoring offense.
Aaron Jones was a 182nd overall pick. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the 174th pick.
Even David Bakhtiari, the game’s best left tackle, went No. 109.
Green Bay seeks a certain type of temperament.
“Talent does run out,” Taylor says. “So, what keeps you in the league is your work ethic, your mental.”
And if Taylor has learned anything these last couple of years, it’s that this sport is “100 percent mental.”
“At this level, everybody is good,” he says. “Everybody can run. Everybody can jump. Everybody can tackle. Everybody can catch. But building your mental, that’s big.”
So what does this look like? This hunt for a hidden gem? Taylor’s wild ups and downs offer a peak behind that curtain.
“My journey wasn’t easy,” Taylor begins, “but I’m here.”
He’s got some rare genes. Start with those. Taylor’s father, Patrick Sr., was an offensive lineman at Nicholls State. His mother, Katie, ran track and played softball in high school. His older sister, Nadia, played softball at the University of Texas and is currently in a professional fast-pitch softball league. Growing up a lineman’s son sure gives Taylor a real appreciation for those five behemoths up front, too. He says he’s always gone out of his way to “glorify” his linemen as much as possible. All of Dad’s old war stories from the trenches will do that.
On to Memphis, the talent ran deep in the backfield. In 2018, current NFL backs Tony Pollard and Darrell Henderson and Kenneth Gainwell and Antonio Gibson and Taylor were all on the same team. That season — with Gibson still playing wide receiver — Memphis amassed a ridiculous 3,919 rushing yards. The Tigers’ 279.9 yards per game only trailed gimmicky option teams Georgia Tech, Army and Air Force for the most in the nation.
They ran the football in just about every way possible with head coach Mike Norvell asserting himself as one of the brightest minds in the game.
“It was ridiculous,” Taylor says. “We were just playmakers and Coach Norvell knew how to use us and implement us within his offense. We were a big part of his offense then and running backs are a big part of his offense now. Most of it was we were playmakers. You can catch the ball out of the backfield. You can run it between the tackles. Outside of the tackles. You can line up in the slot. You can run receiver routes as well. He used us in a lot of different ways.
“And, also, the Wildcat was a big thing in our offense as well.”
Taylor was the large man who could move. Up close, his physique is a sight to behold. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein described him as a “comic book hero.” Multiple scouts rave about his size.
Gainwell describes Taylor as a power back who still has the speed “to take it to the crizab — that’s the house.”
You can catch his highlight reel here.
“Big Pat is the best guy you can ever think of,” Gainwell says. “He’s like a brother but more of a teacher. When I first came to Memphis, Pat was the guy I talked to and got cool with because he was a guy that killed the game at Memphis and I tried to model my game and lifestyle after him. He was just addicted to working hard and that’s how we attack the day. Love the guy and wish him nothing but the best.”
Taylor himself? He’d watch a ton of Adrian Peterson (“A freak. He can run away from guys, run through guys, juke guys”) and Le’Veon Bell. While Taylor wouldn’t come to a complete stop behind the line of scrimmage like Bell, he loved his extreme, trademark patience.
Little did he know that his patience would be tested to this extreme.
The ligament in his foot ripped on the last drive of the first game his 2019 season. Taylor could’ve gone pro, of course, but returned to school for a breakthrough moment like this. A chance to tear it up vs. a SEC power like Ole Miss. As a senior, he could simultaneously improve his draft stock and put this program on the map. And with 5:39 left — Memphis nursing a 15-10 lead — Taylor took the handoff out of the shotgun, plowed ahead for four yards, was tackled awkwardly and his helmet popped off.
Here, he relives it all. As much as he’d love to forget this play entirely, he can’t. It’s seared in his memory. “Part of me,” he says. Taylor vividly remembers looking down at his foot to make sure it was still intact. On the game copy, you can see Taylor give someone a thumbs up as he limps to the sideline. The announcers calling the game hardly even acknowledge the injury. But the back himself knew right then that something wasn’t right. As he wobbled off, he could hear a “click” in his foot.
He entered the tent. A trainer squeezed his foot. The pain throbbed and, initially, Memphis thought Taylor suffered a mid-foot sprain. Two days later, he had tests done. A doctor walked into the room, put the scans up on the board and Taylor could tell something was wrong just by the look on his face.
The doctor’s whole demeanor changed, he says, like he was about “to bring some bad shit in here.”
Taylor re-adjusts in his seat on Zoom. This memory stings, too.
“Man, it was a stressful time,” Taylor says, “because you’ve played ball your whole life. I’ve never been hurt. I’ve never had a serious injury. And it happens the first game of my senior year. What are the odds?”
Then, came the bad news. The Lisfranc ligament — the one that holds his big toe and second toe together — had completely torn. Taylor would need surgery that’d sideline him for 6 to 8 months. His season was over.
“At that moment,” Taylor says. “I couldn’t do anything but sob and cry. Just because, like, in an instance, ‘Dang. Football can be taken away from you quick.’”
How do I tell my Dad? How do I tell my Mom? What do I say to my sisters? Where does my team go from here?
Taylor thought of just about everyone but himself.
When he first called his Dad, he could barely piece together words through the tears.
Yet then… hope. One Memphis trainer told Taylor that he could get a second opinion. So, he did. And this doctor told Taylor that he could have “a TightRope procedure” done and that this would allow him to return in 6 to 8 weeks.
Which, of course, made his decision easy.
He could wipe away those tears and play.
“You tell a 21-year-old that who loves football and wants to play football at the next level that he can come back in 6 to 8 weeks, you think he’s not going to take that? Like, me, I’m not telling myself, ‘Am I doing myself a disservice if I do this?’ I’m not even thinking about that. I’m thinking, ‘Oh! This will get me back on the field quicker? I’ll do this option.’”
Clearly, someone should’ve protected Taylor from himself.
He’s nice to Memphis here. He chooses his words carefully. Taylor simply says he wishes he could’ve gotten “more guidance” from someone on the outside looking after his future like an agent.
Taylor sat out 2 ½ months and that numbing irrelevance took a tool. Missing Memphis’ thrilling 54-48 win over SMU — with College Gameday in town — was incredibly difficult.
Memphis kept on winning without the help of arguably its best player.
Taylor did return to play five games. Five excruciating games. And Taylor did help lead Memphis to a Cotton Bowl appearance against Penn State, scoring a TD in that loss, but he did it all through severe pain. Only later did Taylor learn that the “TightRope” is typically used on ankles. Not feet. And the procedure is as simple as it sounds. He had two holes surgically drilled into his foot and a “rope” helped tighten everything together.
It didn’t fix anything. All this did was quite literally allow Taylor to function.
All week of practice, the foot killed him. Each Saturday, he took Toradol pills to ease the torture but even the sport’s drug of choice did little.
“Dude, it felt like shit,” Taylor says. “It felt terrible. That was definitely the worst pain I felt just because you’re on it all day. And I’m a running back. I run. I cut. I jump. So, it didn’t feel very good. But, I mean, I gutted through it.”
He shakes his head and looks off into the distance.
“It was bad, it was bad.”
His then-girlfriend, now-fiancé helped him power through. It also helped to see friends like Gainwell and Gibson benefit from his absence. Gibson would wind up getting drafted by Washington in 2020 and Gainwell went to Philly in 2021. Yet as Taylor prepared for his own NFL Combine last year, it hit him: He needed to have this foot examined again. He told his agent it wasn’t feeling right and had the best specialist in the country, Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, take a look. And that’s when Anderson told Taylor there was no way around it. He’d absolutely need another surgery.
That February, Taylor gritted through the Combine. No doubt, he would’ve run faster than his 4.57 on two good feet.
That March, Taylor finally got the surgery he should’ve had all along.
That April, he went undrafted. A total of 19 backs were chosen over Taylor, a dude the NFL deemed damaged goods. Still, the Packers extended an olive branch. The Packers told Taylor they’d give him a redshirt year of sorts to let his surgically repaired foot fully heal. To them, this was a talent worth stashing. Taylor? He couldn’t do anything for months on end but absolutely grew as a person.
He and his fiancé became closer than ever. Nowadays, they do battle in mini golf at Bay Beach.
He volunteered at “Better Days” to mentor kids 1 on 1. While shooting hoops, he tried sharing words of wisdom. Surely, his own story resonated.
He rehabbed every day.
And his best time was spent with the team’s sports psychologist, Dr. Chris Carr. Hired the same month Taylor signed with Green Bay, Carr previously worked as a consultant for the Indiana Pacers (2011-2020), Indiana Fever (2001-2013), Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-2011), Kansas City Royals (1999-2005), Columbus Crew (1996-2000), Tasman Motorsports (1996-98) and the Arizona Cardinals (1994-95).
Twice a week, Taylor met with Carr and he treasured each conversation. One useful bit of advice Carr gave him was to write down all milestones in a journal to track his progress.
Thus, this was the blessing in disguise that makes a running back practically nobody’s heard of so, so dangerous into this 2021 NFL season.
Patrick Taylor didn’t just rebuild his foot. He rebuilt his mind these last two years.
“Switching your perspective, man, it could always be worse,” Taylor says. “It could always be worse. I remember Alex Smith going through his recovery. Him going through that recovery and almost losing his leg, almost losing his life and him coming back and playing ball, dude, if he can do that? What am I… why not? It just changes your perspective on football, let alone life in general.”
By Dec. 17, 2020, Taylor practiced again and felt “like a kid in the candy store.”
He still remembers planting that repaired foot in the ground, storming upfield and feeling his explosion of old return. It had been forever since Taylor was himself on a football field. Aug. 31, 2019, to be exact. He dominated Ole Miss that day before the injury, too. Now, he could play a crucial role over time in Green Bay’s offense. Head coach Matt LaFleur loves to unleash multiple backs in multiple ways. Possibly, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon and Taylor form a three-headed monster that becomes the foundation for this offense.
This scheme is tailormade for such a powerful back who makes one cut and goes.
In so many ways, Taylor feels like he’s at Memphis again. He says LaFleur and Norvell are “of similar minds,” adding that both coaches like to unleash running backs in creative ways all over the field.
Jones returns on what’s essentially a two-year, $20 million deal. That’s robbery for someone who busted open so many games through two 13-3 seasons. Jones’ 5.5 yards per carry ranked No. 1 in the entire NFL for everyone with at least 200 attempts. A full half-yard better than Dalvin Cook (who’s making $12.6M per year), Alvin Kamara (who’s making $15M per year) and 1.5 yards better than Ezekiel Elliott (who’s making $15M per year). Not bad work for a GM under so much fire.
Dillon is built unlike any running back this side of Derrick Henry. We chatted with the “unicorn,” right here, back in March.
Taylor is the wild card. Inject a healthy Taylor into this equation and the Packers’ run game could reach a new level.
Just as Kyle Shanahan seems to plug whoever he wants into his pyrotechnic run game, his pal LaFleur would probably love to roll with three different body types. If Jordan Love is the quarterback of this team through August, September, etc., count on everyone seeing the full volume of his playbook. Two years in, the offense has been a combination of the playbook itself and what Rodgers changes plays to at the line of scrimmage.
That’s led to a lot of points and a lot of wins but, hey, it doesn’t have to be Armageddon on the other side.
A post-Rodgers, new-look offense could be scary for all the right reasons, too.
Around here, an undrafted back out of Notre Dame who could’ve bled to death when he slipped at a party and his arm smashed through a glass table is let go by one team and overcomes two fumbles in the 2007 divisional playoff round to rush for 201 yards and three scores. Around here, a cornerback who wasn’t offered a scholarship, who saw 23 other corners get drafted ahead of him, who cycled through nine different NFL workouts (and one Arena League workout) after getting cut by his first team ends up taking a pick to the house in the 2010 divisional playoff round.
Around here, a receiver the Jacksonville Jaguars gave up on ices a win in the 2020 divisional playoff round.
Another Grant, another Tramon, another Lazard that went undrafted is always on the cusp of a defining moment in Green Bay.
Looking back, Taylor repeats that, yes, he wishes he would’ve valued the opinion of someone outside of the Memphis building when he tore that Lisfranc ligament. (“It would’ve been less trauma to my foot.”) But finally, he’s himself. He feels zero pain. And that’s all that really matters now.
You won’t find another player on this roster more ecstatic for the start of training camp.
What Gainwell, what everyone close to Taylor remembers most about him is his smile.
For a while in ’19, he was forcing that grin.
Now, he can’t stop.
“I’m not going to put a ceiling on myself,” Taylor says, “because the sky’s the limit for myself. I need to manifest. I’m big into manifestation. You say you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it.”