Jonathan Taylor has been arguably the most productive player since suiting up for the Wisconsin Badgers as a true freshman. The pure statistical production that Taylor has achieved will be talked about for years. He’s the active leader in current rushing yards in the NCAA, despite only going into his third season. If he declares for the NFL Draft this season, as most expect, he won’t retire as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, but he has a strong chance to retire in the top 20, and even possibly a chance to crack the top 5. If he was to return to school, we could be talking about the game’s all-time leader.
Taylor wasn’t a 5-star recruit. In fact, he was considered a 3-star by a majority of scouting companies. He lacks elite size and athletic ability, but he’s a running back in its purest form. Compact and strong, with the ability to hit the big play, Taylor has everything a school could want in it’s workhorse. However, in an ever-evolving game, how does Taylor project into the NFL Draft?
In a league where passing is the focus of every offense, a player with Taylor’s experience should come with receiving production. Taylor doesn’t have that, but it’s not his fault. The stigma that he can’t catch is based of the lack of production. Taylor isn’t going to develop into Christian McCaffrey, but he shows the ability to bring in the ball effectively and he runs routes with good burst. With receiving ability out of the way, here’s how the rest of Taylor’s game breaks down.
Taylor is well-built and has a strong lower body. His legs constantly churn and he rarely gets taken down by single tackler. He lowers his shoulders and hits defenders with force. He doesn’t shy away from contact and will grind out the tough yardage. If Wisconsin needs a yard, you know what number they’re calling.
Taylor isn’t the yards-after-contact monster like Derrius Guice was, but he has the ability to brush defensive backs off him. He’s always running at 110% and it shows in his tenacity in the trenches. Taylor’s power is his best weapon because he hits with the same impact on his first carry, and his 30th. Late in games, when the lights are brightest and moments most important, Taylor is at his biggest advantage. Defenders are exhausted, trying to tackle him play after play, and Taylor outlasts them. Taylor shows this exact ability in a game against Maryland:
Lololol Jonathan Taylor is such a tank. pic.twitter.com/rQtkGdDHmX
— Kyle Crabbs (@GrindingTheTape) June 29, 2018
Taylor runs behind an elite offensive line at Wisconsin. However, it takes more than just a good line for someone to average 2,000 yards a season. The line opens the holes, and Taylor hits them, every time. He understands where he needs to be, and he doesn’t lose sight of where he’s going. Some high profile backs waste yardage attempting to bounce for a big play, but Taylor doesn’t. Here, Taylor identifies his window, and takes it for 6.
Jonathan Taylor’s power + Wisconsin’s offensive front creating hallways for running lanes was a perfect combo. pic.twitter.com/KkpsZ9QR7A
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) May 15, 2019
Taylor has been dominant statistically, with back-to-back 1,900-plus yard seasons and 29 total rushing touchdowns. However, what’s arguably more impressive is the fact that in 27 career games, he’s rushed for less than 50 yards just twice, and less than 100 yards just 5 times. On the other hand, he’s rushed for more than 200 yards 8 times, and even hit 300 once. All while averaging nearly seven yards a carry. Nothing is more important to a running back than consistency, and Taylor has it.
Wear and Tear:
4,000 yards is both a positive and negative. While he’s been dominant in his career thus far, 600 carries in two years is a ton of tread. Teams will worry if Wisconsin has overused it’s star running back, and because of it, we might see a slide in the NFL Draft. Especially if he sees another 300-carry season.
Taylor has proven to be a home-run threat. However, I question if he’ll really be able to outrun NFL-level defensive backs and edge rushers. Good testing will go a long way for Taylor in the NFL Draft, but he may be destined to be an early-down back as part of a duo. Similar to what we saw the New Orleans Saints popularize with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Taylor has put the ball on the dirt 12 times so far. That’s an average of one fumble every 50 or so carries. Taylor needs to show he’s improved this season, as NFL teams will heavily knock him for this.
Jonathan Taylor is college football’s premiere running back. He’s a favorite to win the Heisman, and with a great season, he should see himself get selected as early as even the late first round of the NFL Draft. Taylor will look to enshrine himself in the college football record books. As for his translation to the NFL, he’ll have some things he needs to shore up. However, there’s no reason Taylor can’t be the next model of consistency and enjoy a long, productive career.
Matt Valdovinos is a writer for PFN covering the Washington Redskins and Big Ten Football. You can follow him @MVScouting on Twitter.