For a sixth-round draft pick, there’s a lot of attention on Jaylen Twyman right now. There’s no simple explanation for this, and it’s not just because he was shot four times this offseason. Now he’s been released and cleared waivers to return to the Minnesota Vikings’ reserve non-football injury list.
“Twyman was shot in the arm, leg, buttocks, and shoulder,” wrote ESPN’s Courtney Cronin on June 21. “The 21-year-old suffered superficial exit wounds and will not need surgery.”
Twyman has since recovered and had already reported to Vikings’ camp before he was released to make room for newly-signed receiver Dede Westbrook, who undoubtedly deserved the spot as Minnesota’s third receiver. It’s been reported that Twyman’s career will have already been cut short, but this is a common procedure in the NFL.
It also seems like a courtesy for other NFL teams to make an effort to let players clear in situations like these. Even if it’s not, what team would take a flyer on a sixth-round rookie who can’t even play in the first six games of the season and will take up a roster spot? The Vikings even released a statement for this particular situation, likely to let fans and the media know they intend to keep Twyman on the team after his release.
But this isn’t the first time the 199th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has had to overcome adversity.
The 22-year-old rookie sat out last season, and it wasn’t a typical pandemic opt-out. “This isn’t about COVID-19,” Twyman said in a Twitter statement from Aug. 8, 2020. “This is about my family’s needs, now and in the future.”
One of Twyman’s reasons to stay home was because he was the man of the house after his father was incarcerated for drug-related charges. Not only was the CFB season affected by COVID-19, but his family life was too.
He also lost some friends to gunfire-related incidents while playing for Pitt. It’s hard to imagine how his family felt after hearing he was shot in Washington D.C. less than two months ago.
“There are more things than just gunplay and drugs,” Twyman told the Post-Gazette in November of 2019. “Life is bigger than that.”
Twyman would likely have been drafted higher had he declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. He racked up 10.5 sacks in his first year as a full-time starter during his sophomore season, and that year he switched his jersey number from 55 to 97. Why 97? Well, it’s the same number as a legendary, undersized Pitt defensive tackle from a few years before.
Aaron Donald is a mentor and role model for Twyman, and they have a few similarities beyond playing for Pitt. They have both been criticized for being too small, and some draft gurus projected them to be backups. Just take a look at this NFL Draft profile for Donald. Let it be known that Twyman somehow has a better prospect grade than Donald did on NFL.com.
“Short, scrappy, instinctive, highly productive defensive lineman who does not look the part,” it reads, “but inspires confidence he can be an exception to the rule. Is the type you root for and has the quickness, athleticism, and motor to earn a spot as a rotational three-technique in a fast-flowing 4-3 scheme.”
Donald was clearly more polished than Twyman heading into the pros, but they have similar strengths and weaknesses. It really comes down to whether or not Twyman can be “an exception to the rule,” as Donald was.
Twyman was drafted with the same pick as Tom Brady and by the same team as fellow Pitt alum, Patrick Jones II. Jones may earn playing time at defensive edge with how little depth the Vikings have, but Twyman will have to overcome the next challenge in his football career to get playing time.