Jaelan Phillips took Monday personally. When it comes to football, and his future, he always has.
The former UCLA transfer and Redlands, California native had Miami’s Pro Day circled for months. It was, in Phillips’ eyes, his chance to continue his drastic exponential rise on league-wide draft boards. By the end of Monday’s session, Phillips dominated the headlines out of Coral Gables.
From his 4.56/4.58 splits in the 40-yard dash to his 80-inch wingspan and 36-inch vertical at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Phillips closed the book on any potential remaining doubts surrounding his explosive ability as one of the top defensive prospects in his class.
“All Jaelan did was… do everything right,” Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said. “He’s completely transformed his body since arriving on campus and you can forget about his talent, his talent was on display today, his effort, desire, and want…. he set the tempo for our program and he had a great year because of it.”
It isn’t always easy entering a program as a transfer, especially one with the prestige and history of the University of Miami, but it was an obstacle Phillips knew he had to clear to reach his ultimate goal of competing on Sundays. Across two seasons as a UCLA Bruin, Phillips’ time in Los Angeles was injury-riddled with minimal success. He totaled just 4.5 sacks in 10 games and was forced to medically retire following the end of the 2018 season. For Phillips, it was the lowest point in his football career.
“All I can say is I feel blessed to be here,” Phillips said. “It’s been an emotional journey but at the end of the day, you know, stepping away from the game like that, it gave me a perspective. Coming back in, I had a chip on my shoulder and I think you can see it in the way I play.”
Phillips’ story is one of many within the annual draft cycle. A story of revival, resurgence, and a case where the grass was indeed greener on the other side of the hedge. In a day in age where recruiting and transfer regulations become increasingly authoritarian, a light in the form of Jaelan Phillips was a welcomed sight to the surrounding aura of uncertainty for many athletes across the country looking for that second chance in their recruiting cycle.
As a Hurricane, Phillips provided the dominant force on the edge so desperately needed with Gregory Rousseau opting to sit out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Phillips totaled 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 10 games. His best film arguably came against Virginia Tech, an in-conference matchup where Phillips introduced himself to the nation with a dominant 2.5-sack performance. The following week, Phillips replicated his performance, again recording 2.5 sacks on the Hurricanes’ way to a 48-point shutout victory over the Duke Blue Devils.
It’s his consistency and work ethic that Phillips says sets him apart. In an overall weak EDGE class, it’s the little things that have stood out to scouts during his evaluation process.
As a pro, his projection is simple: “I’m everywhere,” Phillips stated.
“I love going out there and putting my talent on display. I play with my hair on fire and play with a motor on every play.”
Paired with a ravenous intensity, Phillips’ talent as a playmaker against the run and pass—where he uses his unique blend of size, technique, and athleticism—could slide him into the ‘EDGE1” slot on draft boards across the league.
He’s a terror to block for an entire game and is rarely beaten to the point of attack. Phillips says his pad level is an area he needs to “focus on,” but an athlete with distinct versatility to work with both his hand in the dirt or standing up like Phillips should earn starters' reps from the moment he steps into his future NFL facility.
“I have a desire to be excellent at everything I do. For me, it’s my god-given talent to go out on that football field and dominate. The feeling of getting a sack or a TFL (tackle for loss), it’s an out-of-body experience… there’s nothing like it.”