The Miami Dolphins could thrust second-year cornerback Jamar Taylor into the spotlight in 2014. After a rookie season in which he barely played on defense, it's fair to wonder whether he will shine or succumb to stage fright.
The Dolphins will surely find out one way or another, but Taylor almost didn't get this far. He told Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman that he nearly quit football altogether.
"It was to the point last year I thought I was done playing football," Taylor said. "I didn't want to play anymore. I was out of it. Thank God for my girlfriend, my family, my pastors and God — because I made it through and kept working. I'm really looking forward to this year. I'm going to turn a lot of heads."
Times were tough, but Taylor persevered. If he has put the dark days behind him, and has recommitted to football, he could rediscover the talent that made him a second-round pick and make an impact in the Dolphins secondary.
The Dolphins didn't receive an immediate return on that investment of a second-round pick in Taylor, but the selection has proved to be a wise one, given how the Dolphins' offseason has worked out; they have lost cornerbacks Dimitri Patterson (released, signed with New York Jets) Nolan Carroll (free agent, signed with Philadelphia Eagles).
The selection, at the time, was not panned by critics. In fact, a number of draft analysts praised the pick as good value at the end of the second round. Of course, if any of them knew that Taylor would play just 45 snaps as a rookie, their perspective on the pick may have been a little different.
Taylor ranked 27th on Rob Rang of CBS Sports' final big board before the 2013 draft. Rang considered Taylor a better prospect coming out of Boise State than former BSU cornerback Kyle Wilson, who was drafted by the New York Jets in the first round in 2010:
In a draft class filled with talented cover corners, Taylor is one of the more enjoyable defenders to watch on tape; he's every bit as impressive in zone, press and off-man coverage, as well as in run support. Taylor was impressive at the Senior Bowl and certainly erased any concerns about his overall athleticism with a stellar performance at the combine. Taylor is a better all-around player than former Boise State standout Kyle Wilson, who was selected by the Jets 29th overall in 2010.
Rang adds that Taylor brings some oomph in run support, and that he lacks experience playing press coverage and may not have the size to effectively jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Perhaps he could play in the slot to help transition to life in the NFL—although the slot is seen as more difficult, by some, as a result of the lack of help from the sideline.
His lack of experience against top-flight competition was also seen as a red flag, but he seemed to have eliminated those concerns with a strong performance at the 2013 Senior Bowl.
Taylor didn't get much of a chance to prove whether he would be up to the challenge of covering NFL receivers. He was plagued by injuries in college, and he suffered nagging injuries in 2013, absent for seven games with hernia and groin injuries. Now, he'll be battling newly signed Cortland Finnegan for a starting spot opposite Brent Grimes.
"Coming back, not being myself, being slower, not as quick, not as agile — watching on Sunday, knowing you want to play, knowing you're better than some guys," he said, per Cripe, "and there's nothing you can do about it."
Finnegan dealt with injuries of his own in 2013; he missed three games with a thigh injury and was placed on injured reserve in late November in advance of the team's 11th game of the season. His play suffered with the injury, but he was already off to a bad start.
At one point last season, Finnegan was allowing a perfect (158.3) QB rating outside & in the slot. Singularly impressive, in an ugly way.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) March 14, 2014
Despite Finnegan's struggles, the Dolphins may have given a peek behind the green curtain with the signing; Maybe they aren't confident with Taylor's ability to immediately step in and play a big role, and they want to cover their bases to make sure.
The Dolphins have created a three-man competition over two spots at cornerback: the one opposite Grimes, and the slot duty. Finnegan, Taylor and Will Davis will likely be the ones competing for those spots.
One more thing to consider is the change in front office. Former general manager Jeff Ireland was the one who drafted Taylor to the Dolphins, not the current GM Dennis Hickey. The leash may be a little shorter for Taylor than for your average second-round pick, just by virtue of the fact that Taylor is not one of Hickey's guys.
Who should start opposite Brent Grimes?
With the new rookie wage scale, it's easier than ever to move on from mid-round picks, even after only one or two years. According to sports-contracts website Spotrac, it would cost the Dolphins $488,600 more to cut Taylor than to keep him in 2014, but they can save $480,350 if they cut him in 2015 instead.
Taylor looked ready to start for an NFL team when he entered the league in 2013, so unless an injury-marred season has changed his trajectory for good, he should still be able to step in and contribute. This could be a big show-and-prove year for Taylor, and if there were doubts about his commitment to football before, it will be interesting to see what happens to those concerns if he struggles after earning the starting job—if he earns the job at all.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases. Combine measurements and workout numbers provided by NFL.com.