Packers Keep Unlikely Receiver for Initial 53-Man Roster

Malik Taylor Packers 53

Getty Malik Taylor #86 of the Green Bay Packers looks on prior to a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on August 15, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Few roster projections — if any — gave Malik Taylor very good chances to make the Green Bay’s active roster this season, and yet the 2019 practice-squad holdover was one of just five Packers receivers left standing after Saturday’s cutdown deadline.

The Packers began reducing their numbers from 80 to 53 players on Saturday morning with the release of fan-favorite wideout Jake Kumerow, who received the company of fellow wide receivers Darrius Shepherd, Reggie Begelton and Malik Turner over the next few hours.

While Taylor was originally expected to join them on the cut pile, Matt Schneidman of The Athletic reported later in the morning the Packers intended to keep him on their initial 53-man roster for the 2020 season. Sure enough, Taylor was retained behind Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.

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Taylor Climbed to NFL from Division II

Taylor started with long odds to make the NFL after spending his college career at Division II Ferris State. Those odds became even longer when a hamstring injury wiped out the bulk of his senior season in 2018, putting little more than a solid junior season on his resume and leading to him going undrafted in 2019.

While Tampa Bay signed him as a UDFA following the draft, the Buccaneers only gave him three days before casting him back into the free-agent pool.

As luck would have it, the Packers came calling for the 6-foot-2, 216-pound wideout just as NFL training camps were starting up and gave him a chance to contend with a crowded group of wide receivers for a spot on their 2019 active roster. Though he lost out to players like Shepherd and ex-Packer Trevor Davis, Taylor still found a home on the team’s practice squad alongside Lazard — who proved stars can rise from the reserves.

“Obviously, they saw something in me. Thank God,” Taylor told reporters last week of his experience in 2019. “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.”

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Why Taylor Instead of Kumerow & Others?

Taylor was obviously in the mix to make the roster, but few people would have put money on him over others like Kumerow or Shepherd prior to the cutdown. So what is it about the second-year wide receiver that convinced the Packers to keep him?

First off, it should be noted that Taylor is expected to be the sixth receiver in the rotation this season despite there only being five true wideouts on the roster. The Packers have expressed an interest in deploying return specialist Tyler Ervin as both a receiver and a rusher in the upcoming year with his versatile skill set creating matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Being sixth in the rotation also necessarily equate to playing time for Taylor, either. The Packers kept four tight ends along with three other running backs, all of which have pass-catching potential the team aims to exploit. For example, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 88 receptions, 727 yards and eight touchdowns as pass-catchers last season and were just two of 10 Packers receiving targets to make at least 10 catches in 2019.

There is also the possibility that the Packers are using Taylor as a placeholder for another addition that could come over the next few days. While the COVID-19 pandemic restricts the process, NFL teams will have a short period to place waiver claims on certain players who were expelled from other rosters. A bigger roster move (like a trade) could also happen, but there’s nothing to suggest the Packers have anything cooking for the time being.

Another possibility? The Packers have seen something in Taylor that fans and reporters have missed, a byproduct of there being no preseason games for players to showcase their growth. Remember, Lazard was completely left off the initial 2019 roster and was given even slimmer odds to make an impact last season. Now, he contends for the No. 2 spot behind Adams.

Does that mean anything for Taylor? No, but it does go to show that contributors can come from unexpected places and that the Packers have a history of recognizing that.

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