While some of the Wisconsin hopeful maintained that Jonathan Taylor or Zack Baun had the potential to break Wisconsin’s streak of having no graduates drafted in the first round, it just wasn’t meant to be in 2020. Both of these former Badgers were drafted on the second day of the first ever virtual NFL draft, with Taylor drafted in the second round and Baun taken in the third.
Even if neither of these two went quite as high as they or Badger nation may have hoped, their future success is dependent more on where they end up than at what point in the process they were selected. With that being said, let’s take a look into how both Taylor and Baun will fit in with their newly found NFL homes.
The Indianapolis Colts selected Jonathan Taylor early in the second round with the 41st pick in the draft. This was a somewhat surprising pick given the Colts’ recent success on the ground in the 2019 season. While they were ultimately unable to make the playoffs, they did seventh in the league in total rushing yards. On top of this, their leading rusher Marlon Mack was 11th in the league in total rushing yards while averaging a highly impressive 4.4 yards per carry.
The Colts will have Phillip Rivers coming in as quarterback on a 1 year contract that expires in 2020. While the Colts expressed confidence in the talent they have returning at wide receiver, they thought it best to use their first pick of the draft to take WR Michael Pittman of USC to bolster the weapons available to Rivers and Co.
So, where does Taylor fit into this picture of a strong returning running back as well as a fresh face at QB with new and returning weapons? Well, it’s entirely possible that the Colts plan to develop Taylor for a season and then use him as Mack’s replacement.
Mack has just one year left on his four-year contract that was signed in 2017. Meaning, unless he chooses to re-sign with the Colts, he will become a free agent after just one season. Behind Mack in rushing yards on the season was Jacoby Brissett, the QB now expected to be backup to Rivers come 2020. Effectively, this means that nobody truly has a lock on the starting job if Mack does choose to take his talents elsewhere.
This means that we could see some series touches for Taylor in just his second year in the NFL, if not sooner. One of the areas of Taylor’s game that most improved between his junior and senior years was his route running and overall receiving capabilities. Taylor came in second on the season only to Quintez Cephus, a fifth round pick in his own right, in total receiving touchdowns. Furthermore, Taylor also racked up an impressive 252 yards receiving on just 26 receptions.
With Rivers on board for 2020, Taylor’s newly developed receiving game could provide yet another option for the veteran QB to target. Even with Taylor being a rookie, I would not envy an opposing NFL defensive coordinator that has to try and plan for Taylor being a threat both on the ground and through the air when leaving the backfield.
Baun’s role for the New Orleans Saints is a bit harder to discern given their current situation. While the Saints had an extremely successful regular season in 2019 at 13-3, their defensive efforts were lacking in certain areas. They landed middle of the pack for points allowed per game at 21.2 and gave up an average of nearly 335 yards per game — good for 11th in the league.
Yet, despite these relative shortcomings for a team of their caliber, the Saints ranked third in the NFL with an astounding 51 sacks on the season. In his time at Wisconsin, especially during his senior season, Baun was somewhat of a sack enthusiast. He finished his final season with a team high 12.5 sacks. That total was also high enough to put him in ninth place in the nation and second place among all linebackers for sacks on the season.
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It seems then that Baun’s specialty would play directly into the hands of what the Saints are already quite strong at. Yet, it is most likely that the Saints see stability and longevity in the battle-tested ILB. The Saints have multiple star LBs returning from injury this year, yet their contracts are set to expire following the 2020 season. Much like Taylor, Baun could see significant playing time if the Saints do not re-sign returning talent past 2020.
Only time will tell, but the first two Badgers drafted in 2020 could be well on their way to making a significant name for themselves. Overall, each seems to have found a solid fit to grow into their new careers at the highest level of football competition.