When Stefon Diggs exercised the voluntary opt-out part of last Wednesday’s organized team activity (OTA), the Vikings called on one of Gary Kubiak’s favorite overachievers to do some extra running with the first-team offense.
Jordan Taylor, the overachiever, joked that he’s pretty sure Diggs’ starting job is safe when he returns.
Then he eloquently and succinctly expressed a primary key to lasting four years as an undrafted NFL player.
“My job,” he said, “is to be available anywhere they want me.”
Kubiak, the Vikings assistant head coach-offensive advisor, was Broncos head coach when Taylor came out of Rice in 2015. When the draft ended, Kubiak moved quickly to sign the 6-5, 195-pounder with the 4.5 speed.
“Gary Kubiak is the reason I’m in the NFL,” said Taylor, signed last month as a free agent after missing last season because of surgeries on both hips. “He took a chance on me.”
Taylor made Denver’s practice squad as a rookie. That same year, Peyton Manning needed a “personal receiver” to help sharpen his legendary right arm and brain as he worked his way back from a foot injury to rejoin Denver’s march to what eventually was a Super Bowl 50 victory over Carolina in Manning’s final game.
“Peyton shot me a text one night,” Taylor said. “He said, ‘Hey, meet me at the indoor field at 9 a.m. tomorrow so we can throw.’ And we continued that for about six weeks.”
“I was the only receiver on the practice squad,” he said. “And what an experience. I learned a lot from him. How to read defenses. How to understand offensive concepts.”
A notoriously hard worker, Manning demanded a lot from Taylor as well.
“It was probably an hour and a half every morning before practice,” Taylor said. “We were doing every route. Two-minute drills. Up and down the field.”
And then Taylor went to practice, where he would try to simulate the next opponent’s top receiver.
“And I also played some safety on the scout team defense,” Taylor said. “I think I lost about 10 pounds that year because I was always running.”
Taylor said he wasn’t nervous about catching passes from Manning. But …
“I was worried about being at exactly the right spot at the right time,” he said. “That’s big for Peyton.”
Asked about Taylor on Tuesday, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins praised his attention to details when it comes to route running, saying, “If a route calls for him to get to 14 yards, he gets to 14, he doesn’t get to 13. If it’s a double move, he runs a double move with the right technique.
“I really like him,” Cousins added. “He’s a diamond in the rough. … He is going to be a big asset and probably one of those players who is quietly acquired but ends up being anything but quiet come the season.”
In other words, look out for this guy as the Vikings continue searching for a reliable No. 3 receiver.
Taylor has another skill that Kubiak convinced the Vikings to embrace despite the surgeries to repair a torn labrum in one hip and a microfracture in the other.
“I think I might be the tallest punt returner in NFL history,” Taylor said after spending Tuesday’s OTA as the No. 2 punt returner behind Chad Beebe, the early front-runner to replacing Marcus Sherels, who owned the job for eight seasons.
In 2017, Broncos punt returner Isaiah McKenzie fumbled six times while returning 21 punts for an 8.7-yard average. He was benched in favor of a shaky Plan B.
“I had never returned a punt in my life,” Taylor said. “But we needed someone to just secure the ball.”
Taylor returned 11 punts that year, fumbling once, for a 9.4 average. In 26 games as a Bronco, he also caught 29 passes for 351 yards (12.1) and two touchdowns.
“Gary thought he was a good football player,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “So that’s the connection here.”