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Is Jonathan Taylor the Perfect Running Back Prospect: A 2020 NFL Draft Prospect Profile

Jonathan Taylor has been a hot devy item for two full seasons now, and it is highly likely the time has finally come for him to make his much anticipated graduation to the NFL. While it is more than likely Taylor will be playing on Sundays next season, we will get one more opportunity to watch him play in a Badgers uniform. Wisconsin plays Oregon in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day 2020.

From The Beginning

Taylor was born and raised in New Jersey and attended Salem High School. He compiled 4,642 yards and 51 touchdown in his high school career. The high school career numbers are not fully eye popping, but the numbers from his senior season are wholly impressive. He set the New Jersey state record in rushing yards that year with 2,815, scored 37 touchdowns and averaged 234.6 yards per game. Despite this incredible season, he was just a three star recruit and the 24th ranked running back in the class according to 247 Sports Composite. With this grade he initially committed to play at home town Rutgers, but ultimately made the best decision possible, and opted for Wisconsin.

College Production

When Taylor arrived at Wisconsin, nothing was guaranteed for him. He was one of five backs in consideration for playing time in 2017. He turned heads in his first scrimmage, taking his first carry against the first team defensive unit 70 yards to the house, and added a receiving score in the same scrimmage. He only built momentum from that point forward, as he emerged on the college football scene in just his second college game with a 223-yard, three-touchdown performance against Florida Atlantic. 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. He was a Doak Walker Award Finalist in 2017, but had stiff competition in Saquon Barkley and Bryce Love, and fell short of winning. This was corrected in both 2018 and 2019, when won the award as the nation’s top running back.

The first Doak Walker award winning season of 2018 saw him lead the (FBS) nation in both rushing attempts and yards with 307 totes for 2,194 yards for 7.1 YPC, which was top ten in the nation. Also top ten in the nation were his 16 touchdowns. This season added him to the list of Badgers to rush for 2,000 yards. The first two were Ron Dayne and Melvin Gordon.

2018 set the bar incredibly high for Taylor, but 2019 was an even more impressive season. He got the opportunity to show off his receiving chops in his junior season. Despite rushing for 100 fewer yards than he did in 2018, his total yardage output was 49 yards better and his touchdown output was through the roof. His 24/209/5 receiving line is mouth watering, mostly due to his TD rate being 20.8%. He scored more often than every fifth reception and looked great doing it, which more than proves he’s got receiving talent. After the 2019 season, Taylor has the most career rushing yards among all FBS backs who played only three seasons.

Other records set by Taylor are most 200-yard rushing games, most rushing yards as a freshman and most rushing yards as a sophomore.

How It Happened

Wisconsin has had no shortage of NFL running back prospects in recent years. The Badgers love to run the ball and Taylor was the perfect marriage for them. The record breaking numbers were aided by volume at Wisconsin, but to drop these numbers on a Big Ten schedule is nearly unheard of. I view conferences like the Big 12 as more likely and bluntly, easier to drop these types of numbers in. Simply put, this happened because Taylor is the perfect college running back and NFL prospect.

Comps and Draft Prospects

When you combine Grinding The Mocks draft projection of 41st overall with the RotoViz Box Score Scout to match characteristics with previous prospects, we find that Taylor compares quite favorably to all of the following:

While I do believe the draft projection of 41 is ultimately going to be too low on Taylor, there are comps to celebrate on this list, particularly considering that Taylor is the cream of a crop that includes Christian McCaffrey.1 If Taylor ends up commanding first-round draft capital, those who currently prefer the likes of Travis Etienne and D’Andre Swift as the top back may be forced to reconsider.

Why He Will Succeed

Taylor reportedly ran a 4.42 forty as a high-school senior. At 5 feet 11 inches and 214 pounds, he is the perfect combination of size, speed, agility and vision and brings a mammoth floor in terms of draft capital. It is nearly impossible to envision a scenario where Taylor falls past the second round and it is much more likely that he is a first-round pick. If we tweak his projected draft capital to the first round in the Box Score Scout, comps such as Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook pop up near the top. I will never use the term “can’t miss” for a prospect at this juncture, but with that said, Taylor is as close to the perfect running back prospect as we will find. He is set up to be a bell cow in the NFL for years to come.

Image Credit: Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Jonathan Taylor.

  1. The Bishop Sankey and Montee Ball comps remind us that no one is a sure thing. And it’s worth noting that none of these comps take athleticism into account, as we don’t yet have those numbers for Taylor.  (back)

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