Rookie Rundown: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Rookie Rundown: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

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Rookie Rundown: RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

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Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterbacks have a two-man race to be the first drafted – Joe Burrows or Tua Tagovailoa? The running backs are the same – D’Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor?

The ex-Badger Taylor could end up as the first running back selected in the NFL draft and no matter what – he’ll be expected to step in as a primary back from Week 1. Swift may have more experience as a receiver and a bit less wear on the tread, but Taylor harkens back to the bruising, workhorse-style of back not all that unlike Derrick Henry was in college and finally became in the NFL.

Taylor was prolific for each of his three seasons. He produced over 2,000 total yards in each season even as a freshman. He came within 23 yards from producing three straight 2,000-yard rushing seasons. His role as a receiver finally kicked in last year when he caught 26 passes and scored five times via a reception. But Taylor’s rushing ability is elite, record-breaking and spectacular. He ends as fourth on the all-time NCAA FBS career rushing yards leaderboard, with 6,147 yards.

He only played three years.

Height: 5-10
Weight: 226 pounds
40 time: 4.39 seconds

Ten years ago, when the running backs ruled the NFL, Taylor would have fit in perfectly and would have been drafted even earlier. For the last two seasons, he was a unanimous first-team All-American and won the Doak Walker Award twice as the nation’s best running back. His 1,977 rushing yards in 2017 is the all-time record for any freshman, and he was the Big Ten Freshman of the year.

Year Games Runs Yards Avg. TD Catch Yards. TD Total Yards Total TDs
2017 14 299 1977 6.6 13 8 95 0 2072 13
2018 13 307 2194 7.1 16 8 60 0 2254 16
2019 14 320 2003 6.3 21 26 252 5 2255 26

Pros

  • Workhorse back that never gets tired
  • Durable – never missed time with any significant injury
  • Rare speed/size ratio. Can shift gears at the second level and leave defenders behind with 4.39 speed
  • Runs like a wrecking ball inside and almost never tackled by just one defender.
  • Equally dangerous inside and outside, but mostly a straight-line rusher
  • Runs with great urgency and determination
  • Arm tackles won’t bring him down
  • A downhill runner that doesn’t waste time with excessive jukes or cuts
  • Shorter, muscular and yet blazing speed makes him remarkably elusive and he always falls forward
  • A lock for all short-yardage and goal-line duties

Cons

  • Lots of miles on the tread. History not always kind to such a college workload. Could have a shorter career.
  • Lost 15 fumbles in college but had a high volume of carries and doesn’t shy away from contact. Could be a bigger issue in the NFL if defenses find success stripping the ball
  • Only added role as a receiver last year. Capable – just not very experienced
  • Will need work on pass protection – did not play as much on obvious passing downs

Fantasy outlook

Taylor is the iconic college workhorse back. He ran for around 2,000 yards in all three seasons. There is no question about his rushing ability other than how long he can maintain a high level of production after 926 carries over 41 games. He’s been a 300-carry back for three years despite playing in three (or four) fewer games in a season than he will in the NFL.

Taylor needs to land on an offense with an above-average line. He’s been a straight-line rusher that takes advantage of his blocking and is used to reaching the second-level where he can bull for more yards or hit a seam and take off. He is not adept at dancing behind the line of scrimmage waiting for a hole to open (but who is?). He is a perfect fit for the NFL of ten or more years ago. He needs to improve as a receiver and blocker to better fit into the 2020 NFL.

He is projected to be taken at the end of the first or the first half of the second round, depending on team needs after free agency shakes out. The positive there is that he could potentially end up on any team. His college workload may shorten his career but that first four years as a rookie shouldn’t be an issue – and he has been very durable.

Teams that are most likely to have an interest in him include the Rams, Falcons, Dolphins, and Buccaneers. He’ll be of interest no matter where he ends up but if he lands on a team with a great offensive line and a passing game to respect, Taylor’s fantasy stock will rise sharply.

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