Two weeks into free agency, followers of the Minnesota Vikings have questioned new general manager Rick Spielman’s relative inactivity coming off of last season’s 3-13 record.
The moves included re-signing several players from last year, adding a tight end and offensive lineman who both missed all of last season and bringing in two fullbacks. Yet perhaps the one move that caused the most head scratching was adding Nick Taylor, a former college basketball player who shined in front of scouts at the Florida International University pro day.
Taylor, 23, played in a start-up football league last year; his first time since early in high school that he played organized football. Running a 4.27 40-yard dash will grab the attention of NFL talent-evaluators. Add in 15 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, a 10-foot-6 broad jump and 36″ vertical leap at the FIU pro day and Taylor’s unconventional route to an NFL contract was just about complete.
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The Vikings brought him to town, put him through a private workout and signed him later that day to a three-year contract, worth up to $1.44 million.
“I had been working hard and had the opportunity to join the FIU pro day this year,” said Taylor, who spent three seasons with the school’s basketball team and averaged 1.3 points and 1.7 assists per-game. “I went there. I had a few teams call me up to see if I wanted to sign. I went to Minnesota and liked it instantly so I didn’t go anywhere else.”
Taylor said he had heard from the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets. Speed is a tantalizing aspect for NFL teams. While he might have surprised scouts at the pro day, he wasn’t shocked at the display.
“That’s what’s easy,” Taylor said. “I can run all day. I never ran track. Actually ran slower than I thought I would have.”
It was enough to do the trick. The Vikings signed a young player with athletic skills. The question now is if he can become an NFL player. Taylor was about the only person who believed it could happen.
He was given the choice in high school whether to continue playing football or dedicate himself to basketball where he was a starting point guard. It wasn’t any easy decision because Taylor said football was his favorite sport. But his high school basketball coach had other ideas.
“He didn’t want his starting point guard doing both,” Taylor said. “So I stopped playing football.”
The decision worked in the short-term, as Taylor eventually made his way to Florida International as a basketball player. But his pro dreams started to fade as injuries forced him to miss basketball games. Still, in the back of his mind, Taylor was always thinking about football.
“I told my friends all the time, we’d be sitting around the room and I’d say, ‘If my foot was healthy, I’d be in the NFL right now,'” Taylor said. “They’d tell me, ‘You gave that up years ago.” I told them, ‘I could still do it if I put my mind to it.’ I always thought I could. Now we talk about, “Here you are,” just laughing.”
Here he is.
The former point guard played last season with the Fort Lauderdale Barracudas in the Stars Football League, a type of minor or semi-professional league which made its debut last season. Players were paid between $100 and $500 per game and had to pay for their own travel to away games.
However, it was just the break Taylor needed.
“It helped me get back into the groove of things,” Taylor said. “It was very beneficial.”
Taylor played cornerback and led the Stars Football league with seven interceptions in five games. He also had two defensive returns for touchdowns, while making the league’s all-star team. His coach for Fort Lauderdale, Marty Culpepper, wasn’t surprised he received a look in the NFL.
“When we first saw him play, we said, ‘He’s supposed to be in the NFL,'” Culpepper said. “He’s a coachable young man and he’s willing to learn.”
After the season, he continued working with the team’s strength and conditioning coach and eventually received permission to work out at the Florida International pro day. He had tried to test at the school’s pro day a year earlier, but was denied.
“It was a good thing because I look in hindsight and know I wasn’t ready,” Taylor said. “It was a blessing in disguise. It gave me more time to train and get back to playing actual football too then.”
Taylor, 5-foot-10, also put on weight to be ready for football and now says he weighs 177 pounds. He said he expects to be used as a cornerback and kick returner and knows he will need to make an impact on special teams if he hopes to stick around with the Vikings. While he was given a three-year deal, he knows he still has to make the team to receive the full extent of the contract. He wasn’t given any guaranteed money.
There are no guarantees for Taylor, but he’s got the chance he’s always wanted. “I’ve got to work for it, like anything else,” Taylor said. “That’s nothing new to me.”
No. But his path to the NFL certainly was something new.