Jonathan Taylor was the best running back in college football last season and has the potential to become the best runner from his draft class. He is one of the best backs in college football history with the potential to become one of the best in the NFL. He’s that good.
Taylor was well on his way to being redshirted as a freshman entering Wisconsin. That is until they saw him out on the practice field. It did not take them long to see he was ready to contribute, and Taylor ended up being listed as a co-starter to begin his career.
Taylor impressed out of the gate, and with other injuries mounting up, and became Wisconsin’s guy. While Bryce Love and Saquon Barkley dominated the running-back conversation that season, Taylor was quietly putting up one of the best freshman seasons of all-time at the position.
Overall, Taylor ended up running for 1977 yards and 13 touchdowns. What made these numbers even more impressive is that he was able to run for 6.6 yards per carry and 1,349 of his 1,977 yards came after contact. He forced 66 missed tackles for the season.
Taylor basically became a star overnight, becoming a Freshman All-American, First-Team Big-10, and a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, the Maxwell Award, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
Taylor entered his sophomore season as a preseason Heisman candidate, and while he did not go on to win the award, he was damn good once again. He was the best running back in the game, and his 1,109 yards after contact were more than most backs had total.
Taylor went on to win the Doak Walker Award after his 2,194 yard, 15 touchdown campaign and was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded running back. Many felt that at that point, Taylor had already proven he was ready for the NFL, but he still had one year of eligibility. He decided to run track last spring, and he most definitely has the speed for it.
Taylor spent the summer heading into his Junior season working on his route running, pass-catching, and pass protection. The results most definitely showed.
Taylor was utilized much more heavily in the passing game, catching 26 balls for 252 yards and 5 touchdowns after just hauling in 16 passes over his career prior. Despite losing four of his starting lineman from the year before, Taylor was able to eclipse 2,000 yards on the ground once again. He became the first player in FBS history to gain over 6,000 yards in just three seasons, and once again took home the Doak Walker Award.
Needless to say, Taylor had an impressive career. One of the best of all-time for a college running back in fact. He is an equally impressive prospect.
Despite weighing in at 226 pounds, Taylor has true track speed. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine. His power and speed combination is unrivaled in his class. He can truly do it all. He can wear a defense down gradually with his shorter build and toughness, but he is also a home run hitter back that’s hard to catch after contact.
Taylor’s improved pass-catching ability has put to rest any concerns that scouts may have had about his three-down ability, though obviously there is still some room for growth here. He is very durable, barely missing any down in college and a true bellcow back. He has great burst around the corner and is a patient back who lets block unfold for him, but he is also a downhill runner who rarely gets too cute with the ball in his hands.
Taylor is my top back in this class and about as perfect a prospect as you can find, but he does not come without a few concerns. His high usage in college may turn off some teams, as he was a workhorse and then some.
The other concern is how often he fumbled the ball in college, losing 15 over his career. Of those fumbles, 5 came in his Junior season, suggesting that his ball security is still in question. We all know fumbling can have you sent to the bench quicker than anything else in the game of football, so this will be a concern going forward.
Overall, Taylor has the making of an elite running back in the NFL, and due to his 40-yard dash time seems like he could be a fringe first-round pick. If the Falcons can get their hands on him by the time they are on the clock, Thomas Dimitroff should be running even faster than Taylor’s 4.39 speed to the podium.
Despite all the needs along the Falcons’ roster, running back is one of them, and they could be bringing in a potential Hall of Fame talent if they draft Taylor. The only thing stopping him will be whether he can keep the ball off the ground.
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