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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.
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.
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 – 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.
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: email@example.com
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