2020 NFL Draft: Why Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor is overrated

Jonathan Taylor put up historic numbers in his three years at Wisconsin. But he could be the most overrated player in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The best way to summarize Jonathan Taylor’s 2020 NFL Draft profile is “Buyer Beware.”

Taylor amassed a ridiculous 968 touches across three seasons which could be enough to scare off some NFL GMs. Moreover, much of Taylor’s success has come from Wisconsin’s fantastic and historically great run blocking scheme which has resulted in insane production for whoever is getting the hand-offs in the backfield.

Taylor has thrived his entire college career on Wisconsin’s bread and butter outside zone runs.

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 219 pounds

Career Stats:

2017: 299 ATT, 1,977 YDS, 6.6 AVG,  13 TD, 8 REC, 95 REC YDS

2018: 307 ATT, 2,194 YDS, 7.1 AVG,  16 TD, 8 REC, 60 REC YDS

2019:  320 ATT, 2,003 YDS, 6.3 AVG,  21 TD, 26 REC, 252 REC YDS

Taylor will most certainly be over-drafted as most mock drafts currently have him going in the first or second round. In a loaded 2020 running back draft class, Taylor’s fumbles, high number of college carries, and production against top defenses are enough for me to give him a Day 3 draft grade.

Possibly due to his high usage in his freshman and sophomore year, Taylor’s production dropped slightly despite receiving more carries in his junior season. Possible wear and tear has perhaps already reared it’s ugly head for Taylor.

Taylor reminds me of a former Wisconsin Badger running back, Montee Ball. Both are around 5’11 and 215 lbs while running behind historically great offensive lines in college. Each produced gaudy rushing stats and limited receiving stats in the Big 10 while collecting an absurdly high number of carries.

It’s easy to fall in love with Taylor if you just look at the raw numbers, but every single running back since 1990 has thrived in Madison, Wisconsin.

Barry Alvarez, former Wisconsin coach and now athletic director, brought the ground and pound scheme to Madison when he arrived in 1990.

“We established how we were going to win at Wisconsin years ago in establishing a running game knowing that we could always recruit big linemen in the state,” Alvarez told Sporting News in 2015. “For that to be the one constant; then go out and find backs to do a job for us. We’ve been able to do that. That’s the staple of our program.”

20 Wisconsin offensive lineman have been drafted since the year 2000, the most for any college football program. This year, Jonathan Taylor ran behind the 8th-best offensive line in the entire country (per PFF). Center Tyler Biadasz is arguably the best center in college football last year and this year.

In 2018, Taylor’s sophomore season, look at the line he ran behind:

It’s not hard to find productive running backs in any level of football when you can consistently have superb offensive linemen paving the way and creating massive holes like Wisconsin has done the past three decades. Replace Taylor with any Division I running back and they can probably produce similar numbers than what Taylor has put up in his three years at Madison.

When Taylor went up against the conference’s best front sevens, Michigan State and Ohio State, he came nowhere close to the numbers he would put up when he faced the cupcakes on his schedule like South Florida and Central Michigan.

@ Ohio State (10/26): 20 ATT, 52 YDS, 2.6 AVG,  Longest Run: 14 yards
@ Michigan State (10/12): 26 ATT, 80 YDS, 3.1 AVG, Longest Run:13 yards

When Wisconsin’s powerful and talented offensive line was neutralized by great run-stopping defenses like Ohio State and Michigan State this year, Taylor struggled to make guys miss and create big runs.

On top of that, Wisconsin’s scheme didn’t call for Taylor to pass block or run a lot of routes. He nevertheless struggled in those aspects all throughout his college career. He caught just 16 passes total in his first two seasons. His draft profile is littered with red flags. He had 18 fumbles in 41 games which is a trait that always carries over to the next level for most college running backs.

It’s completely fair to judge a prospect like Jonathan Taylor based on the history of Wisconsin running backs in the NFL. Since 1990, nine running backs have been drafted from the University of Wisconsin.

Next: Latest 2020 first-round mock draft

Only Michael Bennett and Melvin Gordon have ever made a Pro Bowl. Taylor is nowhere near as talented as Gordon was coming out of Wisconsin. Taylor’s vision is subpar and he struggles to make guys miss when hitting the hole. NFL teams this spring must be buyer beware with Jonathan Taylor.

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