As we head towards the 2020 NFL Draft, football analyst Liz Loza will deliver a snapshot of the top prospects at each position that will include their pro comparison and best fantasy fit. Starting things off for the running back class is Wisconsin Badger, Jonathan Taylor.
A high school track star with athletic bloodlines (his dad, Jonathan James, played basketball at San Francisco State), the New Jersey native won back-to-back state championships in the 100-meters and the 4×100 his junior and senior years. He begged his mom (Elizabeth Taylor) to let him play football, not because he loved the game, but so that he could hang out with his cousin Amani Justice.
He was also a diligent student and was accepted to Harvard but ultimately chose to attend Wisconsin, as he believed that competing in the Big Ten would provide a more likely path to the NFL.
Taylor’s second (and third) level speed isn’t just evident in his tape, it was confirmed when he posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash times for running backs at the combine (4.39 seconds). At over 220 pounds, the former Badger is a literal force in the open field when he hits his highest gear.
Averaging 308 totes per year over his three seasons at Madison, concerns over Taylor’s odometer reading make sense. I’m more troubled, however, by his lack of experience in the passing game (62 percent of his catches came in his final year) and his issues with drops (per SIS, Taylor recorded 26 receptions on 39 targets in 2019, 31 of which were deemed catchable).
As a three-year starter in Wisconsin’s run-heavy approach, Taylor gained experience (and found success) in zone and man/gap schemes, making him a solid fit for a variety of offenses. A resilient spirit, Taylor’s running style illustrates urgency and authority. Advanced patience and power allow him to churn his way through holes and muscle his way past defenders while a compact build (5-foot-10 and 226 pounds) and remarkable contact balance keep him upright.
While his physical approach is impressive, it has led to ball security issues, as Taylor accrued 18 fumbles (15 lost) over his college career.
Second player in FBS history to rush for over 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Taylor is no stranger to climbing his way up the depth chart. After all, he was the RB5 when he first arrived in Madison. By the end of the 2017 season, however, he had piled up 1,977 rushing yards and 13 TDs. The backfield in Pittsburgh may be crowded, but James Conner can’t stay healthy, Jaylen Samuels isn’t a running back, and Benny Snell (as much as I appreciated his plug-and-play/chug value in fantasy last year) is slow.
Taylor’s power, speed, and playing style are a solid match for the Steelers, who currently hold the No. 49 pick in this month’s draft.
What about Taylor’s game intrigues or concerns you the most? Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF.