Alontae Taylor possibly would have been selected in the NFL Draft even if he hadn't played at the University of Tennessee.
But Taylor, whom the New Orleans Saints drafted in the second round (No. 49 overall) on Friday night, is fairly certain that former Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt put him on the path that landed the cornerback in New Orleans.
Taylor went to Tennessee as a highly touted quarterback (8,225 yards and 75 touchdowns of total offense in his prep career) who moved to cornerback before his first game as a freshman in college.
"I always say this, it wasn't my choice," Taylor said. "Coach Jeremy Pruitt saw something in me that I didn't see in myself.
"Coach Pruitt always asked me, how many receivers did I see in the league that are my size (6 feet, 199 pounds). With my physicality, he felt like if I wanted to go to the NFL, playing corner would give me the best opportunity with that.
"I thank him for seeing something in me that I didn't see in myself, but also pushing me each and every day to become the best corner that I could within the short period of time that I had in college."
The payoff was Taylor becoming the highest-drafted defensive back selected by New Orleans since 2017, when the Saints picked cornerback Marshon Lattimore in the first round (No. 11) and safety Marcus Williams in the second (No. 42).
"We added a player to our secondary that we feel really good about," Saints Coach Dennis Allen said. "We feel like he comes in and competes at the corner position. He does have some flexibility to potentially move inside (to the slot). He's an outstanding special teams player, so in terms of adding some depth to our team and in terms of helping our team as a core special teams player, we feel like we really helped our group."
In his Tennessee career, Taylor started 31 of 45 games and finished with four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 162 tackles. He became a starter as a true freshman, the first for Tennessee at cornerback since 2013.
"I just feel like I'm just an athlete," Taylor said. "I'm just an athlete. I have the versatility, I don't feel like I have a lot of bad muscle memory things. So being able to go to defensive back, being an athlete, I can just go out there and play.
"My mind-set is wanting to be great. I feel like in life sometimes, you have to adapt and I'm willing to adapt and I'm willing to change things about me that's going to get me to the next level. I feel like that's what I did and that's what I'm going to do whenever I get to New Orleans."
Taylor said at least three contacts with New Orleans – at the Senior Bowl, at the NFL Combine and with Saints assistant secondary coach Cory Robinson.
"They didn't really give me a specific position," he said of the Saints. "They were just saying they like how I played and from my IQ and understanding of the game that I could play in any part of the backfield, whether that's corner or nickel or even playing safety.
"I feel more of a corner, but whatever the Saints need me to do, I'm going to come in and do that. If that's moving to safety or moving to nickel, I'm willing to do that and I feel like I can have a lot of success doing that."
"I see him at corner," Allen said. "But he's another one of those guys that fits our culture and what we're looking for: Tough, smart, competitive. And when you have smart players, they're versatile enough to do a lot of different things."
Check out photos of New Orleans Saints 2022 NFL Draft second-round draft selection Alontae Taylor. The defensive back out of Tennessee was selected with the 49th pick.