Running back Jonathan Taylor has been a crucial piece of Wisconsin’s offense for the past three seasons, making the decision to forgo his senior season and enter the 2020 NFL Draft in April.
While Taylor’s college career is undoubtedly great, how his skills will translate to the NFL are on the minds of NFL scouts across the league. During his time at Wisconsin, Taylor broke numerous records — most notably for most 200-yard rushing games in an Football Bowl Subdivision career (12) and most rushing yards through a junior season (6,174).
But Taylor has also raised concerns about a heavy workload with 926 rushing attempts in three seasons, and ball security with five fumbles in the 2019 season alone. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the draft stock of one of the greatest running backs in UW history.
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In 2017, Taylor joined the Wisconsin football team as a three-star recruit out of Salem High School in New Jersey. While it is evident that Wisconsin has a long history of producing highly-touted NFL running backs — Ron Dayne, Melvin Gordon and James White, to name only a few — nobody could have expected the career that Taylor would have as a Badger.
In just three seasons, Taylor surpassed 6,000 yards rushing — placing him sixth on the NCAA’s all-time rushing list and second in Badger history, behind only Dayne. Taylor also finished in the top 10 for Heisman voting each season, along with winning the Doak Walker Award, for best NCAA running back, twice and earning multiple All-American and All-Big Ten selections.
In Taylor’s junior season, he also expanded his repertoire to include “pass-catching back,” hauling in 26 receptions after just 16 total over the course of his first two seasons. Those 26 grabs went for 252 yards and five touchdowns.
Taylor averaged 6.7 yards per carry over his three seasons, amassing 50 touchdowns on the ground in addition to his five receiving touchdowns — an astonishing total considering he only played 41 career games.
Though Taylor’s stats are impressive even when measured on the offense-heavy college football scale, he did raise concerns for NFL scouts during his three seasons at Wisconsin.
As mentioned earlier, Taylor lost five fumbles in the 2019 season alone, but that’s average compared to the rest of his college career. In his 41 career games, Taylor has fumbled a total of 18 times, with 15 of those recovered by the opposing team.
What’s worse, his inability to hold on to the ball has not improved over the course of his career with eight fumbles in 2017 before four and six in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
In the NFL, these stats are simply unacceptable. The occurrence of Taylor’s fumbles average out to roughly one fumble for every 2-3 games, or roughly seven fumbles in a full NFL season. Seven fumbles would be good enough to tie for 18th place in the NFL, and first place among non-quarterbacks, like Derrick Henry whose five fumbles have him as the next closest non-quarterback on the total fumbles list.
Another concern among NFL scouts is Taylor’s true abilities as a running back, since he has undoubtedly benefited from Wisconsin’s superior offensive line, which is considered one of the best run-blocking lines in the nation.
Though Taylor averages 6.7 yards per carry, he’s faltered against difficult competition during his Badger career. In Wisconsin’s loss to The Ohio State University in November 2019, Taylor totaled only 52 yards on 20 rushing attempts, an average of just 2.6 yards per carry.
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Looking at Taylor’s career in its entirety, Taylor is easily one of the best running backs in Wisconsin football history. But, as we’ve seen with former star running backs like Montee Ball and Michael Bennett, not all running back talent translates to the NFL.
Most mock drafts have placed Jonathan Taylor as a late first-round or early second-round draft pick. This seems to be a fairly safe assessment, as most early first-round picks tend to be used on more glaring issues, such as quarterback or the defense.
Various other mock drafts also have an interchangeable order among Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Taylor, as all three are considered to be potential starting running backs in the NFL. All three backs are projected to go in either the first or second round.
Among the mock drafts mentioned earlier, Taylor is projected to go to various teams, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (x2) and the Miami Dolphins (x3) emerging as the favorites. As April’s NFL Draft approaches, keep an eye on Taylor’s draft stock following the NFL Draft Combine in late February and early March.
NFL Draft Projection: Late 1st Round/Early 2nd Round