Early in 2019, Jaelan Phillips had retired from football due to various injuries and had dropped to 225 pounds. He enrolled at Los Angeles Community College and focused on a career in music.
Two years later, the chiseled 260-pound edge rusher from Miami is regarded as perhaps the best pure pass rusher in the 2021 draft. However, there are questions about Phillips' ability to stay healthy, which could cause him to fall in Round 1 and make him available when the Ravens pick at No. 27.
Phillips' fate is one of many intriguing subplots in this year's draft. Nobody questions his talent. He's an impressive athlete who can wreck any offensive play with quickness and instincts.
"He's a freak," NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah said on "The Lounge" podcast. "He's one of the 10 best football players in this draft."
However, ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Phillips falling out of the top 20, going No. 21 to the Indianapolis Colts in their recent joint mock draft. Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News has Phillips going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 25. That's getting very close to Ravens territory, and Phillips would address a pass rushing void after the loss of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency.
Phillips was one of the country's most heavily recruited players in high school, turning down offers from Alabama, Florida and Georgia to stay in his native California at UCLA. He had 1 ½ sacks in his college debut, but Phillips had two surgeries after his freshman year after he badly injured his wrist during a moped accident.
As a sophomore, Phillips suffered three concussions and the injuries took their toll. He retired from football in 2018, but his desire to play eventually returned. He got a second chance in 2019 when Miami offered him a scholarship, and after sitting out the 2019 season, he was an impact player last season with 8.0 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
The talent is there, but his past is a concern. That makes Phillips' draft fate uncertain, but he if starts to fall, the Ravens could be one of the teams waiting to embrace him.
"Phillips is a wide card," Jeremiah said.
Measurements: 6-foot-5, 260 pounds
2020 stats: 10 games, 45 tackles, 8 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss
Why he makes sense: Plugging a pure pass rusher like Phillips into Baltimore's defense would be a valuable asset. The odds are against Philips falling to No. 27, but if he did, could the Ravens pass up a player who could turn into a double-digit sack producer? Perhaps not.
Scouting report: "A motor that keeps him attacking throughout the rep. Adding play strength will be important so that he can stack it up when setting the edge as a run defender. Closing burst to the quarterback is not in doubt. Plays hard and keeps coming from snap to snap. Very aware as a run defender." Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
Backstory: After turning in a strong season, Phillips upped his draft stock with a dazzling Pro Day, running a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash. When he's not chasing down quarterbacks, he's serious about other pursuits. He has played the piano since he was 6 years old and studied music and motion pictures at Miami. His grandfather is Jon Robertson, an acclaimed conductor and dean of the Lynn Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Fla. Phillips sees himself pursuing a career in music or film once his NFL career ends.