GREEN BAY, Wis. – Patrick Taylor’s NFL debut was a season-and-a-half in the making.
With AJ Dillon on fumes after a 50-yard catch and a third-down conversion, and the Packers trying to put away the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Taylor entered the huddle with about 5 minutes remaining.
It was his “I made it” moment.
“I would say I had that epiphany this past Sunday when I ran out onto the field for the first time, with the 1s, being in the huddle with Aaron Rodgers,” Taylor said after Thursday’s practice. “It was so crazy. It was so dope. Oh, my gosh. And snow was starting to fall, so I would say definitely going through what I went through and being put in that position, it was like, ‘Man, I’m so thankful for my journey and where I am today.’”
It's been quite a journey for Taylor.
He entered his senior season at Memphis as one of the better running back prospects for the 2020 draft. Instead, he suffered a Lisfranc foot injury in the 2019 opener.
Taylor was given two options: one that would allow him to return to action and one that would end his season. Taylor, eager to cement his draft status, took the first option. While he returned to finish the season, the injury didn’t heal properly and he had a second round of surgery after the 2020 Scouting Combine at the Green Bay office of renowned specialist Dr. Robert Anderson.
Because of the injury and the likelihood that he wouldn’t play as a rookie, Taylor went undrafted. He signed with the Packers, his rookie year serving as the professional equivalent of an injury redshirt. Beaten out by seventh-round pick Kylin Hill for the final spot in the backfield this summer, Taylor toiled on the Packers’ practice squad for the first half of this season.
When Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury, Taylor was promoted to the 53. When Aaron Jones suffered a knee injury last week vs. Seattle, Taylor received the first three snaps of his professional career.
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On his first carry, he gained 5 yards. Moments later, he converted a second-and-1 to set up Dillon’s clincher.
With Jones sidelined, Taylor will get his first opportunity for extended playing time on Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings. He’ll be ready. Coach Matt LaFleur said his extensive notes remind him of a quarterback in terms of attention to detail.
“PT can handle a lot,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s been with us for a while now, working on the scout team a bunch and now he’s got an opportunity. I think he’s a smart kid. We didn’t worry about anything throwing him in there late in the game, giving him a couple carriers. He’s a tough, hard runner, a good one-cut back. I think he can do a lot in the passing game. He’s got good hands and is a good route runner. So, I think it’s a great opportunity for him. I expect PT to get plenty of playing time and to play well.”
Before Jones' injury, he had received almost no playing time. In fact, by late in the third quarter vs. Seattle, Taylor had played one snap. One – a kickoff. Then, everything changed. Jones ran right for a gain of 6 and was unable to hobble off the field.
Just like that, it was Taylor’s time.
“I was just watching the game,” he said. “I was full of emotion when they said, ‘You’re getting ready to go in.’ But it was controlled emotion. So, I was smiling in my head but, in that moment, I was focused. I was zoned in, locked in. But that moment was a great moment, being able to go in and have a good run and have a first down. I was ready when my number was called.”
Sunday’s moment might have come later than he had dreamed. But there are no regrets about how his college career ended and how his NFL career began.
His time is now.
“As a young athlete, being put in a position like that and having a high draft grade coming out your junior year and you decide to go back, you have second thoughts,” he said. “But through everything that I’ve been through, I would definitely go through it again just because I would say throughout all that, I became a better son, a better teammate, a better brother. And it caught me to be humble and definitely appreciate what you have now and be in the moment. I’m definitely appreciative of the opportunity I have now. And it makes me that much more thankful.”