2020 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
For the first time in recent memory, there may not be a running back taken in the first round of the NFL draft. While Jonathan Taylor put together a mesmerizing career at the University of Wisconsin, he is perhaps not the style of SaQuon Barkley-style player that causes a franchise to lose its’ mind the way that an elite wide receiver like Jerry Jeudy might. Taylor is fresh off of coming fifth in Heisman Trophy voting and was fairly unchallenged as the nation’s top running back in his final college season. There are enough questions over Taylor’s pass-catch ability (only 42 receptions total in three seasons) and straight-line speed that I am projecting him as the first running back taken in the 2020 NFL draft but not in the first round.
The Jonathan Taylor Scouting Profile
Let me make it clear: Jonathan Taylor was born to be a running back. I have no doubts over his ability to perform at the position. He ran for over 4,500 yards and 50 touchdowns in high school and decided to go to the best possible school for a running back: Wisconsin. Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, Melvin Gordon, James White, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, and John Clay (barely) were all NFL running backs. You have to travel back to 2009 with P.J Hill as the Badgers starting running back to find the last time that Wiscy running back didn’t make an NFL career of some sort. Now, this is certainly a false heuristic as merely attending Wisconsin does not make someone an NFL running back but it gave Taylor a chance to show if he was capable and boy did he.
Taylor accumulated 926 carries and 6,174 rushing yards (6.7 yards per carry) over his three seasons at Wisconsin. As a true freshmen, he lead the Big 10 in rushing by over 500 yards while also leading the conference in carries. According to TJ Calkins at Rotoviz “By his seventh game as a freshman, he’d hit the 1,000-yard mark, joining Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson and two others as the fastest to ever do so.” For his follow-up performance, Taylor ran for MORE yards and lead the conference in rushing by even more yards than he had the year before while winning the Doak Walker award for countries best running back. Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders averaged 5.8 yards per carry to Taylor’s 7.1 on 87 less attempts.
Now, in his final season, he SORT OF met his match with J.K Dobbins also running for exactly 2,0003 yards. They also both scored exactly 21 touchdowns on the ground while Taylor had his first meaningful usage as a wide receiver. Taylor recorded 26 receptions in his final season at Wisconsin, having had only 16 total receptions in his first two years of college. Of course, 26 receptions is not a massive sample but it passes the small sniff test of “Can this guy even work in the passing game at all?” In the same way that we generally have questions about big-bodied college running backs who no history catching passes, Taylor needed to show a baseline of competency in the passing game and he did.
Projecting Jonathan Taylor Into The NFL
There are no shortage of elite comparables for Jonathan Taylor and he should also have the most important variable when it comes to evaluating running back futures in the NFL: draft capital. Taylor is ranked on big boards anywhere from 20th to 50th overall and has an average mock draft spot of 41st overall on Grinding The Mocks. Right away, being selected in the top-50 picks pretty much guarantees that Taylor will be a top-three selection in dynasty fantasy football rookie drafts and that he will emerge as a starting NFL running back sooner rather than later. Since 2010, the only running backs to be selected in the top-50 picks and not get a chance at starting were Isaiah Pead, Ryan Williams, and David Wilson. You could argue Wilson did have a chance and then was instantly injured and Williams was never truly healthy. Taylor’s college production and expected draft capital make him an elite fantasy asset. Taylor’s highest sim score comp in the Rotoviz Box Score Scout app is Ray Rice which is about as good as it gets, comp wise.
The Draft Network bring the film perspective on Taylor by writing “An every-down back, Taylor showcased his receiving skill set in 2019 and has always been sturdy in pass protection. Best suited for duties in a power run scheme, Taylor profiles as a Day One starter at the next level.” From an NFL perspective, why you would want Taylor on your team is clear. Similar to Josh Jacobs, Kerryon Johnson, and the newer wave of NFL running backs, he does not have to come off the field. He can catch (a bit), block and is going to get what is blocked with more at the second-level than you’d think. The team that drafts him should plan on deploying him like Leonard Fournette or Derrick Henry, without feeling the need to spell him on more than 15% of the teams’ total snaps.
I am always hesitant to start making definitive statements about running backs before they test at the combine but it has been reported that Taylor, who is listed at 220 pounds, ran a 4.42 40 as a senior in high school. If he is able to run a 4.45 and weighs in at his listed weight, combined with his elite workhorse production, I am going to have a hard time not considering him the best dynasty fantasy football asset in the class and the best running back in the 2020 draft class.