Jullian Taylor is far from a finished product. The San Francisco 49ers seventh-round pick only played one season as a full-time starter at Temple due to various injuries, but his 6-foot-5, 280-pound frame offers tantalizing athleticism given where he was taken in the draft.
Temple head coach Geoff Collins took the reins of the Owls program in 2017 after spending the previous two seasons as Florida's defensive coordinator. Collins had spent nearly a decade in the SEC, a conference that consistently produces some of the nation's top defensive linemen. That's what makes his endorsement of Taylor so credible.
"I knew he was an elite talent – an NFL talent – because I'd been around some of the best defensive linemen who had made it to the NFL while I was coaching in the SEC," Collins said last week on the 49ers Studios Podcast.
Taylor didn't begin playing football until high school. The late-bloomer received a two-star grade from Rivals and didn't garner much interest from college programs. A pair of injuries limited him to just two games in 2015-16 at Temple. That injury history coupled with an overall thin film library contributed to his fall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
But Collins noted Taylor's significant weight and muscle gains in 2017 as reasons for optimism. The coach called him one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the American Athletic Conference, a league that includes projected top 2019 pick Ed Oliver out of Houston.
"You very rarely get a young man who still has room to develop, and Jullian is one of those guys. I think he's going to improve every year he's in the league," Collins said.
So where does Taylor excel as a defensive lineman?
"He's an unbelievable run stopper," Collins said. "You can play him at the 3-tech because you can play him as a head-up nose (tackle). He's strong at the point of attack. He's physical. He plays with great leverage. He has great strength. He plays hard, plays relentless and has a chip on his shoulder."
Taylor recorded 11 tackles for loss in 2017, but didn't register a sack. He'll have to improve as a pass rusher if he's to have staying power in the NFL.
"He improved his fundamentals every single day," Collins said. "He's so coachable. He wants to be a really good player, and so he's like a sponge – anything you teach him, he just soaks up."
The benefit to Taylor is that his learning curve should be minimal in regards to learning the 49ers defense. Temple implemented a very similar scheme to what Robert Saleh installed in San Francisco.
In the immediate future, Taylor will add depth to San Francisco's defensive line. He doesn't figure to play a huge role as a rookie unless he's able to climb the depth chart ahead of D.J. Jones, Sheldon Day and Ronald Blair III. Still, Collins believes in Taylor's potential and went as far as to call him a draft day steal.
"There's no doubt," Collins said boldly. "He's got early-round talent, but I think the thing that held him back was his injury history. But he's fully recovered, he played a great season for us and he's very healthy. He played at a ridiculously high level."