When I first started to write this article, Jonathan Taylor wasn’t being talked about much as THE top running back of the 2020 draft class. Over the last several days, though? Guys like Curtis Patrick, Scott Barrett, and Ray Garvin have squashed that narrative. Let’s get into the Jonathan Taylor Rookie Profile and find out why he’s been the talk of Twitter recently.
Taylor headed to college as a three-star prospect (per 247Sports Composite Score), landing as the eighth-overall recruit in his home state of New Jersey. Finishing off his senior year with 2,815 rushing yards, Taylor holds New Jersey’s modern-era single-season rushing record. Knowing how his collegiate career panned out, it’s wild to think his best offers came from Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Boston College.
While Taylor’s athleticism isn’t talked about with guys like J.K. Dobbins or Cam Akers, he posted a 4.42 40-yard dash at Nike’s Opening at 200 pounds. Not convinced in his speed? He also won two state titles in the 100-meter dash. He may not have the flashy jukes of a D’Andre Swift, but Taylor is no slouch athletically.
Whenever Taylor first stepped on Wisconsin’s campus, he wasn’t near the top of the depth chart. By the time his freshman season started, however? Taylor took the job and never looked back.
*Courtesy Sports Reference.
The dude was 23 yards away his freshman year from rushing for over 2,000 yards each of his three years at Wisconsin. Per Expand The Boxscore, Taylor accounted for 40.3%, 39.1%, and 37.1% of Wisconsin’s scrimmage yards the past three years. Those yearly rushing totals were good enough to lead the Big Ten every single year, and his career total has him at sixth all-time in NCAA history. There is a massive, impressive asterisk needed beside Taylor’s name on the all-time rushing list: he landed here while only playing in three seasons. Everyone else in the top-1o did so with an extra season of games, and only two other names in the top-20 got there with three seasons of play.
Two aspects of Taylor’s production profile are possible causes for concern for some. The one I’m least worried about is his (lack of) receiving production. Early in his career, I believe he simply wasn’t asked to be involved in the passing game. Wisconsin hasn’t exactly been known for its innovation and passing prowess, but when they finally decided to get Taylor involved through the air, he put up solid production. In his junior season, his 36 targets accounted for 10% of the Badgers’ targets and his five receiving touchdowns were good for 27.8% of their passing production.
The other concern would be the amount of touches Taylor accumulated with the Badgers. The list of college running backs with 900+ carries doesn’t exactly inspire fantasy domination.
Taylor’s talent level exceeds most (if not all) players on this list which needs to be considered. This obviously in no way indicates he won’t have fantasy success at the next level, but those amounts of touches are still worth noting. Running backs have a shorter fantasy shelf life as it is and it’s impossible to detect when their drop off will come (sup, Frank Gore). Here’s a simple way of determining when, or if, you should draft Taylor: Are you contending? Awesome, draft him as highly as you have him ranked. Is your team a few years away? Maybe you should consider going receiver instead. The one caveat to the second point is if you know someone in your league is infatuated with Taylor and you can flip him for profit almost immediately.
There are no true holes in Taylor’s game, so I’m just going to highlight a few things he does particularly well, along with one nit-picky item.
One thing I routinely saw from Taylor was his ability to “get skinny” through the line of scrimmage and find creases of daylight when he seemingly didn’t have a shot to do so. While many people will focus on Wisconsin’s offensive line, he has plenty of examples of gaining yards on his own.
Here, against Michigan (2018), he shows exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve paused the video two times to show how clogged the line of scrimmage appeared. Taylor finishes the run by showing his strength and competitive toughness, two other traits defining him as a runner. These are the kinds of runs Taylor will be faced with at the next level and he excelled with them.
Another aspect Taylor does well with is pressing the line of scrimmage and keeping his eyes upfield. In this clip against Michigan State (2019), you’ll see Taylor get right up against his linemen, press to the outside to get the safety to bite, then make his way through traffic for a long gain. Again, we can see him finishing his run with strength as he stiff-arms a defender to the ground and gains additional yardage after contact.
This last clip shows Taylor’s ability to shed and break tackles. In short, you better have a good angle on him and you better wrap him up and drive. If not, this happens (Ohio State, 2019).
My one nit-picky knock on Taylor? I want him to be more creative and bounce more runs outside. Typically, this kind of criticism goes the other way. With Taylor, however, we know he has the athleticism to get to the outside and pick up additional yards. My take is he’s so comfortable running inside and through traffic, he just reflexively goes there instead of looking for lanes outside.
Yes, number 43 on the outside appears to have outside leverage, but I want to see Taylor trust in his athleticism. He could easily hit a jump cut to the outside and take off for more yards than what he gets on this particular play.
Dear NFL, get Jonathan Taylor to a power/gap-heavy running scheme and let him go to work. In 1QB leagues, Taylor needs to be in consideration for the 1.01. In Superflex leagues, he drops down to the three spot behind Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow. The NFL Draft is going to clear a lot of this up between the top tier of running backs and wide receivers, but for now, Taylor has a damn good case for being the top back. He’s a no-nonsense, old school back with a modern skillset. Don’t let his low receiving game numbers fool you. Taylor can absolutely be utilized in the passing game in more ways than dump-offs and screens.