Jaelan Phillips’ long road to the NFL culminates with Dolphins selection at No.18

Jaelan Phillips celebrates a defensive stop during the second half of the University of Miami  - Virginia Tech NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov.14 2020, in Blacksburg, Va.
Jaelan Phillips celebrates a defensive stop during the second half of the University of Miami - Virginia Tech NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov.14 2020, in Blacksburg, Va. Photo credit: AP Photo / MATT GENRTY, The Roanoke Times, ACC Pool

After the 2018 football season, then-UCLA Bruin outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips medically retired from football after a concussion ended his second season in Los Angeles. Now, across the country in a new city, he will play in the same stadium where his college career was reborn.

Following an over 2,000-mile move and a career renaissance, the Hurricanes defensive end and breakout star of the 2020 season emotionally heard his name called when the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft at No. 18 overall.

The unanimous 5-star recruit in the Class of 2017—ranked No. 1 overall by ESPN and second overall by 247Sports—finishes as the first draft pick that many expected him to pan out to be.

But his journey was anything but ordinary.

“Everybody’s path to success isn’t linear at all,” Phillips said last month at Miami’s pro day. “There’s ups and downs and I think all of that really just gave me a better look at everything. Like, it made me have this chip on my shoulder and gave me a deeper appreciation of what the game is and what it brings to me…I just needed a little kick in the butt. A little kick in the butt, for sure.”

And on draft day, the Southern California native tweeted, “No matter what situation you’re in…never give up.”

Phillips added at pro day that he felt as that he’d proven himself as the top defensive end product in this year’s draft.

“Who am I without football?”Phillips asked himself, per ESPN, as he lived a post-football life of working at his father’s law firm and studying music at Los Angeles Community College.

Upon some self-reflecting, Phillips rededicated himself to the sport and announced a February 2019 transfer to the University of Miami. He was one of many fanfare-filled newcomers that arrived in Coral Gables via the transfer portal in head coach Manny Diaz’s first offseason as head coach.

Phillips sat out the 2019 season per NCAA eligibility rules but returned with a vengeance as a defensive end in 2020. His eight sacks led UM a season ago. He also logged 21 solo tackles, 45 total tackles, three passes defended and an interception to his highlight real last fall.

Standing at a sturdy 6-5, 260-pound frame, he landed in at least the top-10 percentile at UM’s pro day in the broad jump (10 ft 5 in), 40-yard dash (4.56) and shuttle (4.13).

The Redlands, Calif. native is UM’s first prospect picked in the first round since the Cleveland Browns picked up tight end David Njoku at No. 29 in 2017.