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FAB 1. RB Taylor Is Worth A First-Rounder

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor deserves to be a first-round draft pick, perhaps even a Top 10 selection. It’s crazy to think he’s not worthy.

Taylor, a junior entry in this year’s NFL Draft, averaged over 2,000 yards per season for the Badgers, totaling 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns as a three-year starter. He also ran a blistering 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine last week at 5-foot-11, 224 pounds.

Compare those numbers to New York running back Saquon Barkley, who was the second overall pick in the 2018 draft. Barkley rushed for 3,843 yards and scored 43 touchdowns in three years at Penn State, and ran just a tick slower at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, albeit weighing six pounds more than Taylor. That’s 2,331 fewer rushing yards and seven fewer touchdowns than Taylor compiled at Wisconsin where he left as the school’s second all-time leading rusher behind Ron Dayne, a former first-round pick of the Giants in 2000 (11th overall).

Dayne, the all-time leading rusher in FBS history, had 7,125 yards in four seasons at Wisconsin. Had Taylor returned for his senior campaign he would have needed just 952 yards to surpass Dayne and become the FBS’ all-time leading rusher. That’s how special of a running back Taylor is.

The last great Wisconsin running back was Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 4,915 yards and scored 45 touchdowns in four seasons with the Badgers. Gordon was the 15th overall pick in 2015.

If Gordon can be selected at No. 15, than Taylor, who is faster and more productive, is worthy of being drafted by Tampa Bay at No. 14, which is where PewterReport.com has him landing in this week’s 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft 3.0. Not only is Gordon faster and more productive than every running back in this year’s draft class, including the likes of Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, he’s also faster and productive than all nine of the running backs selected in the first round over the past five years.

FIRST-ROUND RBs SINCE 2015
2019 – Raiders RB Josh Jacobs – 24th overall – 4.52

2018 – Giants RB Saquon Barkley – 2nd overall – 4.40
2018 – Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny – 27th overall – 4.46
2018 – Patriots RB Sony Michel – 31st overall – 4.54
2017 – Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette – 4th overall – 4.51
2017 – Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey – 8th overall – 4.49
2016 – Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott – 4th overall – 4.47
2015 – Rams RB Todd Gurley – 10th overall – 4.52
2015 – Chargers RB Melvin Gordon – 15th overall – 4.52

If the Bucs want to significantly upgrade their running game in 2020, which I believe is their priority this offseason after averaging 95.1 yards per game and ranking 24th in the league with a 3.7 average, drafting Taylor in the first round would be a good place to start.

Bucs OC Byron Leftwich and QB Jameis Winston

Bucs OC Byron Leftwich and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Whether it’s Jameis Winston under center in 2020 or another quarterback, head coach Bruce Arians wants a more balanced offensive attack in 2020. Throwing the ball over 600 times played a role in contributing to Winston’s 30 interceptions last year.

The Bucs showed they can’t win like that. Throwing for over 5,000 yards accomplished nothing in a 7-9 season other than affecting the team’s record books and getting both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin into the Pro Bowl. The object is making the playoffs and ultimately winning a championship – not setting records or receiving personal accolades.

Of course Tampa Bay’s offensive line needs to be upgraded in order to run the ball better, too. Yet there is a chance that the top four offensive tackles in this year’s draft class – Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas – could all be off the board by No. 14 when the Bucs are on the clock. So grabbing the top running back in the draft over the fifth-best offensive tackle makes sense and might be a better value for Tampa Bay, which can still draft a quality tackle in the second or third round.

I even have the Bucs packaging tight end O.J. Howard and their second-round pick and trading with New England for the 23rd overall pick to select Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones.

The biggest question marks surrounding Taylor are his 18 fumbles over three years, and his limited production in the passing game. Eliminating fumbles typically starts with ball placement and ball-carrying technique. Taylor averaged a fumble every 57 times he touched the ball, which isn’t good, but can be corrected. Giants running back Tiki Barber had a fumbling problem that was corrected at the pro level.

And it should be noted that of Taylor’s 18 fumbles, 15 resulted in a turnover. Again, not great by any means, but that won’t stop him from being drafted in the first round.

As for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and pass protect, Taylor wasn’t asked to do too much of it until his junior season last year when he caught 26 passes for 252 yards (9.7 avg.) and five touchdowns after posting 16 catches for 155 yards total over his first two years at Wisconsin combined. However, Pro Football Focus said that Taylor had eight drops on 50 targets, largely due to his inexperience

“One of the biggest things is being effective on third down,” Taylor said. “A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is. Coach (Paul) Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.

“I had a lot of opportunities this year more than last year. I had about 25 catches this year, which is a big jump from last year and just be able to continue to show that throughout the Combine process once we hit the field work and show that I’m an every down back.”

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: Getty Images

Taylor had a flawless pass-catching workout at the NFL Scouting Combine, not dropping a single pass thrown to him. While his ability to be an outlet receiver or run a wheel route or catch a screen pass is obviously a big plus, it’s his ability to see holes open up, make cuts, break tackles and elude defenders in the running game that most appeals to Tampa Bay.

Taylor ran for at least 100 yards in 32 of his 41 games for the Badgers, including 12 games over 200 yards, and carried the ball at least 15 times in all but three games at Wisconsin. Taylor was asked what makes him an elite back at the Combine.

“I think it’s my consistency,” Taylor said. “I mean, if you look at the next level, what separates the great backs from the elite backs is really them playing on an elite level day in and day out every Sunday. I think that’s one of the biggest things that separates me is my ability to be consistent year in and year out.”

A consistent running game is something the Bucs truly haven’t had since the days of Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott back in the late 1990s. Cadillac Williams and Doug Martin had sporadic 1,000-yard seasons here and there, but to finally find a running back that can be a consistent 1,000-yard back, that could emerge as a perennial Pro Bowler, and could be a factor on all three downs is something that Tampa Bay needs.

Not having a balanced offensive attack and a consistent ground game has negatively affected Winston over his last five years in Tampa Bay, and it will continue to affect him – or whoever the Bucs QB is in 2020 – unless it’s resolved. Drafting an elite, consistent runner like Taylor would be a big step towards achieving that desired balance.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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Pete Wood
1 year ago

I like Taylor a lot, but I gotta wonder if we really want to add yet another starting player with a turnover problem. Bucs can fix that. Where have I heard that before?
I also wonder if he’s worth picking at 14. Some mocks have him going in the second round.
I dunno. Just things to think about.

Pete Wood
1 year ago

I do agree that we should not sign a high-price free agent running back. Scott, you are one hundred percent right. They are not worth the money. I would go so far as to say we shouldn’t sign any first tier free agents. Our worst free agent haul had to be under Lovie Smith when Bucs spent a fortune. The best had to be last year when Bucs had no money, but found a remarkable number of overlooked players. I hope Bruce and Jason are patient and wait for those diamonds in the rough again. No thank you to prima… Read more »

Nobody
1 year ago

“Flood” the RB position?

Good god, no.

VTBucs
1 year ago

PR do you guys have some index info that the BUCs are picking Taylor? Just seems like you all are really putting your eggs in one basket with all the Taylor write ups justifying the pick.

VTBucs
1 year ago

Inside info, not index

tbb345
1 year ago

Really doubling down on all of your questionable/controversial takes here Scott. Taylor’s not worth the 14th pick. I’m surprised you’ve chose this as the hill you want to die on since pretty much no one else has Taylor being picked in the top 20. The Bucs main need in their RB group is someone who can excel in the passing game. That’s RoJo’s main weakness. It’s also Taylor’s main weakness. D’Andre Swift, JK Dobbins, and Clyde Edwards Helaire all fit the prototype the Bucs need. Taylor doesn’t. The GMC/Suh thing has been beaten into the ground 10 times over. I… Read more »

cvillebucfan
1 year ago

Love Taylor but I’d go OL or Chaisson if available in R1 over Taylor. There are just so many good backs in this draft.

If OL and Chaisson are gone I’d be good to trade back some get another 2nd.

awwdembucs
1 year ago

The Bucs need better blocking up front, for who ever is running the ball.

bucballer
1 year ago

Suh is still a beast! He’s nasty and has to be accounted for on every play! He is a leader in the clubhouse and his veteran presence is needed. I’d resign him at 7.5mil and be glad he’s still on my team. Shaq and JPP would certainly notice and feel the difference if were not resigned! I’m quite sure Shaq would not have exploded onto the scene this year had not Suh taken up so much attention in the middle! Fact! Resign Suh… he is a valued member of that front rush!

bucballer
1 year ago

As for Taylor at 14… we’ll it depends if our positions of need and the players we like at those positions r gone. U want 5-6th Tackle or #1 rated RB? The RB position is deep with RBs that have pass catching abilities and can run the ball. History has shown that u don’t need to draft a RB that high to get production. Although RB is a need, I’d rather get a lineman with that pick. A road grading, tractor benching rough neck 21 year old beast of a man! Nothing like youth! And we do need a couple… Read more »

thegeebo
1 year ago

Drafting Taylor in the first round is not just idiotic, it would be irresponsible. We are about to chase Winston out of town for his turnovers (which is the right move), and now you want to bring in a fumbles machine RB as out first pick? Makes no sense. Not to mention, look at how elite RB have done behind poor run blocking offensive lines. Melvin Gordon has had bad years. Did you see Leveon Bell last year? Arguably the best RB in football could not produce last year. Sony Michel was a 1st round pick, he couldn’t get it… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
1 year ago

Doubling down on the RB position means another position becomes overlooked. So from my evaluation I am undecided until I see what the Buc DO in free agency.

Do they go after Conklin?

Do they go after a guard to compete with Cappa at right guard?

Do they sign a vet WR to replace Perriman or resign Perriman?

Do they find a vet free safety to come in?

Do they sign a vet CB to compete with the young promising CBs on the roster?

And is the QB1 situation settled via free agency/trade?

Dman
1 year ago

Not a fan of taking a RB in RD1- build the O line and everyone running the ball gets better and QB doesn’t get the snot knocked out of him the way Jameis has the last few years. That said, if BA and Licht go after the shiny object, Taylor is my favorite RB in this draft, and if they take him, trade RoJo, OJ, add picks, draft an OT and OG, a DT and DE, WR and then pick up a second and third RB late and in FA. Game plans would have to put Taylor in position to… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
1 year ago

And yes, the Bucs should re-sign their defensive core trio. That to me is a no brainer.

According to analytics based mock draft posted on NFL.com the Bucs should keep drafting pass rushers even if the Bucs re-sign JPP and Shaq.

Brandonges
1 year ago

This is one of the more off base Fab 5’s posted. RBs absolutely should not be drafted in the first round in 2020. Scott points to the list of Hall of Fame RB’s and how many we’re drafted in the first round. Cool, the game has evolved since nearly all of those guys played. Arguably as valuable as the first round pick on the field is the rookie contract. These structured contracts should be reserved for positions that cost a premium in free agency. Scott waves off the crowd like me by pointing to the success of Devin White. Because… Read more »

DonkeyHunter
1 year ago

SR’s take is so horrible, and the fact that he doesn’t realize his posting of Seattle’s draft history of running backs shoots his argument to hell is comical.

chefboho
1 year ago

For me it’s simple. If one of the big four oline man are there you pick them and look for dobbins from Ohio state or cam Akers. If the oline are all gone by 14 take Kinlaw as depth on the line needs to happen either way. If all those players are gone, move back and pick up another draft selection. I’m sure someone will want to trade up for these WR’s

Alldaway 2.0
1 year ago

Seahawks stock pile draft choices and use a scattershot approach to see what sticks. Maybe the Bucs should copy this approach. Of course the downside is that Seattle has a lot of B and C level players from the draft. But you do need a lot of B and C drafted players to keep costs low so you can sign the A players to the mega contracts. LJ Collier was Seattle’s first round pick last year who even when healthy is a power rusher but by no means an elite edge rusher. But the drafting of Collier last off season… Read more »

BigSombrero
1 year ago

Great article SR. Much better written article although I’d like to think I contributed. I’ve been making the same arguments about Taylor and citing Seattle and other first round backs as an example on these boards for a few months.

Alldaway 2.0
1 year ago

Rashard Penny has averaged 4.9 and 5.7 yards per carry in those respective 2018 and 2019 seasons. Seattle uses Penny in a committee with Carson and other back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2Dle2moJ_w Bottom line is Seattle looks to draft RB’s high, mid round, late in the draft (eg Homer) or even sign undrafted or street free agents. They let them compete and keep the best three or four. Bucs currently have Ogunbowale, RoJo and Logan under contract. Bucs should sign a vet RB via FA, draft two RBs and sign and undrafted RB. Then keep the best four. The Bucs did do something… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
1 year ago

What this also tells me is that the Bucs coaches and FO think highly of the offensive tackles in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th round of the NFL draft.

Ja'crispy
1 year ago

you guys….Scott just proved he not just the best RB in this years draft. Hes the best running back in the past 5 DRAFTS!!!! Hes faster, has more yards, and more TDS. SMH at anyone who thinks taking a RB in the first round is a bad idea. The Bucs run game has been bottom of the league for how many years now? 7 out of the top 10 rushing teams last year made the playoffs. Only 3 of the top 10 passing teams made the playoffs. 5000 yards passing has only been done 8 times ever!!! and it didnt… Read more »

surferdudes
1 year ago

It’s hard to judge Wisc RB’s because they’re a run first team, with massive O linemen. They also pound the shit out of their backs so even tho he’s a junior, he’s got a lot of miles on those legs. I do agree drafting a RB in the first round is good value. You get them on the cheap for the four best years of their careers, but not at #14, and not Taylor for the reasons I mentioned. It’s a deep draft for RB’s, and I think we can still get a good one in the 3rd round. The… Read more »

martinii
1 year ago

Eureka!!!!! A day, A topic, A reprieve from the maddening world of (I am not even going to say his name…….) I Love talking running backs and I fall in with those who say get the best available no matter what round. If one’s good, 2 are better. Throughout my entire football viewing career (at least 65 years) There is no more exciting play than a RB ripping up the middle, breaking tackles, surrounded by defensive players and ultimately scoring from 40+ yards out. It simply personifies the essence of the greatest sport on earth. The passing game is for… Read more »

BigSombrero
1 year ago

I’ll also pound my chest for being correct about McCoy’s ineffectiveness. Suh has been an inspiration to watch. He’s truly scary to opposing RB’s and QB’s, something GMC is not.

Boca James (Boca Raton Florida)
1 year ago

Good Article thanks Scott. I would draft the RB in round one only if this scenario plays out:
Top 3 OT’s are gone (Not sold on the top 4)
Kinlaw is gone
Trade down options are not appealing

Then I am fine with drafting a stud RB.

Teddy
1 year ago

Scott, if Licht were to follow your recommendation of draft-and-release RBs, there’s something to be said for drafting a RB in the first round. They’d be able to sign that first-rounder to a five-year rookie deal as opposed to just a four-year deal if they draft a RB in rounds 2-7. Granted, you’d be paying more per year for a first-round RB, but you’d have that stud RB for five years, after which time you could draft another.

BigSombrero
1 year ago

If the Bucs trade OJ, who still has enourmous value to teams that actually use tight ends, they can pick up an extra 2nd round pick. I think Indianapolis is the most likely spot. That would give the Bucs the 44th and 45th pick. I thought the Bucs could trade back to 18 with Miami and pick up an additional 3rd

The Bucs would have flexibility to do a lot of good with picks 18, 44, 45, 69, 78.

They could draft RB Taylor, DE Uche, OT Jones, RB CEH, OT Niang in the first 3 rounds.

FilmBuc
1 year ago

It’s never wise to pick early at RB. Spend this capital on the o-line and pick up a mid-round gem or underrated free agent. Why??? Look at the list and here is what they have in common: None of those teams except the Patriots have won ANYTHING. The Patriots won with Sony Michel – but he was useless most of that season before the playoff run and the Patriots were absolutely fine without him. The Rams had success with Gurley. But he was a shell of himself for the playoff run and outplayed by free agent castoff CJ Anderson in… Read more »

FilmBuc
1 year ago

In Fab 5 – look at that list of leading rushers.
Yes – Henry was great and led the Titans (but he was also a part of that Mariota offense, so perhaps Tannehill should get most of that credit).

How many of the others made the playoffs?
Wow
Barely any
It’s a who’s who of non-playoff RBs.

Invest in the trenches.

MudManVA
1 year ago

The best way to run the ball…have a good OL. Hello, D Smith is on a 1 year curtain call! Good RB’s can be great with running lanes & holes! How do you construct a team? Build through the trenches, front to back. RoJo is going to be a solid back, our 3rd down option blows. There are 4 solid RB’s worthy of backend round 1 or 2 picks. Move back or up from round 2 but don’t sell 14. You can say Taylor is better than RoJo, but they are the same back!!! Bell cows with limited abilities in… Read more »

Dman
1 year ago

– Exactly!

Horse
1 year ago

eh?

gcolerick
1 year ago

Too many other pressing needs to flood running back position in this years draft. If we flood any position, it needs to be offensive line. If we do pick two RBs in this draft the second one better be a 7th rounder. If not, they can start playing the second half of the season in Montreal as far as I am concerned.

DonkeyHunter
1 year ago

So, while Seattle stockpiled RB picks, their leading rusher the last few years has been a 7th rounder.

Great case study to use as justification for burning a 1st on a RB.

Lolz…

fredster
1 year ago

“If you build it they will run.” Lol. Flood O line not RB.

Spitfire
1 year ago

Our running game definitely needs to improve, but I still feel that starts up front. We need to solidify the Oline. If we flood the RB position it should be Day 2 or later picks. There are guys sitting there waiting to be drafted this year that will go after Round 1 that will end up being great, we won’t know till they play, but if you pick a couple and bring in an undrafted one, you may find incredible value. Taylor has great stats and it would be great if he ended up being great, but when comparing him… Read more »

wolfet
1 year ago

If you take a running back that high he better be special. College production is not a great benchmark for predicting success. How did Ron Dayne do in the NFL or carter from Penn State? Henry has been in the league for a while, was he not a stud his first year? What changed? Scheme, QB, offensive line. I agree RB is a need but rushing success starts with the OL. You were saying to re-sign Dotson who is a sub-par run blocker at this point. Personally my priority at 1 are OL, DT, pass rusher, QB. Trade up or… Read more »

LIBucsFan93
1 year ago

Anyone that thinks Taylor is an awful pick hasn’t truly watched him play. As an Ohio State fan I’ve got to see Taylor quite a bit. The guy is a beast. If I’m the Bucs I’d pick up a OT and G in Free agency and adding Taylor would solidify the Offense. Draft Taylor and let Byron, Harold Goodwin and Todd McNair coach him up.

FLBoy84
1 year ago

While Taylor is a solid RB, would much prefer to see us address OL early, even if it’s through a trade-down and grabbing the top C/G in Ruiz if the top OT’s are gone by #14. Do agree with the multiple RB approach, but don’t think you need to burn valuable draft capital to do it. Drafting one and signing one to a short-term reasonable deal in free agency seems like a wiser approach. REALLY like Darrynton Evans as a later-round RB. Excited to get free agency started, see the new uni’s, and add some fresh talent in the draft… Read more »

BucRy
1 year ago

Not at 14..trade down and get more picks if that’s the case. You’d even have a chance at trading down and still taking Taylor.

geno711
1 year ago

Don’t mind Taylor if the buc’s want a runner as their running back.

However, I still do not see the comparisons to Barkley. Barkley another level.
Plus the Buc’s have said they want a running back that catches the ball and Taylor is probably not in the top 5 pass catching running backs. Seems like Swift, CEH, and Akers all fit the bill for a pass catching back more.

Taylor the best runner of the group this year. Just not the best at some other things.

fanofdabucs
1 year ago

“The top RB”…according to who? Not many people have Taylor as the top RB in the draft. Keep saying draft “the top RB” or “5th best” OT, is complete hyperbole. And I happen to really like Taylor, but I like Swift, Edwards and Akers as well. One of those 4 RBs should be there in the 2nd round. Then there are guys like Deejay Dallas who would excel in BA’s offense that can be had in the later rounds. If ALL 4 of the top OTs are gone (highly unlikely) and they are able to sign Shaq, JPP and Suh… Read more »

fanofdabucs
1 year ago

DJ and Bucky from the NFL Network, two guys who’s opinions I respect aren’t as high as PR on Taylor.

DJ has him as he’s 39th best player in the draft and 4th RB (behind Swift, Edwards, Dobbins).

Bucky has him as his 5th RB (has Akers rated higher).

High fumble rate and lots of tread are concerns.

Again, I like Taylor a lot, but not close to enough to spend the 14th pick.

Anyway..not happening.

Bucs will draft a OT or DL at 14.

bucballer
1 year ago

The running game opens the passing game! And we were a top five passing team. Imagine what we could do with a feared running game? Boy things have really changed when a 7-9 team with a below average run game contemplates drafting the #1 RB in the country and some fans would not be happy! Let’s be real folks… the Bucs have many needs. If they choose to address some of the problems on OLine through Free Agency, this fan will certainly welcome a talent like RB Taylor at 14! R u kidding me?! He would certainly help and would… Read more »

bucballer
1 year ago

The ranking of RB’s is purely objective! An argument could be made that Taylor is the best running back in the country just based on his 2, almost 3 2000 yard seasons alone. I’m not say he is the #1 RB but certainly he deserves to be in consideration!

magoobee
1 year ago

If Arians want a RB like David Johnon, Antonio Gibson is a better and cheaper choice. He probably will not go until the 4th round, maybe later.

bucianco
1 year ago

I agree that a stud running back is needed. But honestly, could even a stud RB have done much better last year? IMO fix the Oline first then grab your stud RB. But we also need an upgrade at safety. Gonna be a BPA situation for those 3 spots. I’m excited to see how it plays out.

plopes808
1 year ago

Not sure about Taylor at 14, maybe a trade down if we could still get him. Rojo looked impressive last year so not sure it’s worth dividing up the carries and stunting his growth.

I agree 100% on Suh, he is far more valuable to the team than his stats would imply. Too many people discount the intangible traits when it comes to sports.

BadgerW4
1 year ago

Others have said it above, and I have to concur. Drafting Taylor in round 1 would just be downright irresponsible, and I can’t help but think, SR, that you know this, but have some inside info, so you’re trying to justify the pick. Point blank, it would be a mistake. First, you’re the only people I’ve found mocking him this high (and I chart the mocks, so in roughly 30 mocks, nobody else even has him going in round 1, let alone in the middle of round 1) which usually means you’re reaching. Heck, even PFF has him projected as… Read more »