Jonathan Taylor: A Meditation on Greatness

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Jonathan Taylor will be a set it and forget it player one day, but today he will not be forgotten.


In my home dynasty league I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been able to plug Ezekiel Elliott into my lineup on a weekly basis for the past few years. We use the term “set it and forget it” for players like Zeke. Plug Ezekiel Elliott into your RB1 slot and focus on filling out the rest of your roster. Maybe we should focus more on the Ezekiel Elliotts of the world though. By extension, maybe we should focus more on Jonathan Taylor. As good is Zeke is, and as good as Elliott has been to me, Taylor appears to be a superior prospect in every way.

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Production

In just three seasons at Wisconsin Jonathan Taylor ran for over 6,000 yards. That would be a phenomenal accomplishment in four seasons. To accomplish it in three seasons is unbelievable. Literally. Taylor’s career stats look fake. Surely no player would run for 1,977 yards as a true freshman, only to top that number as a sophomore and run for another 2,003 as a junior. Yet, Taylor did exactly that. The term video game numbers gets overused, but those are video game numbers.

As sensational as Taylor’s first two seasons were on the ground, they were largely devoid of receiving production. Taylor posted just 8 receptions (3.9% reception share) as a freshman, and another 8 (4.5% reception share) as a sophomore. That’s a significant weakness.  If Jonathan Taylor is to ascend the upper bounds of RB producers, receiving production is critical. Of the RBs who could be considered mega-producers in recent years, only Derrick Henry failed to receive a significant receiving workload in college. Receiving is not only an important factor in modern fantasy scoring, but an indicator of dynamism. RB receiving work also shows QBs and coaches trust a receiver. This is an issue for Taylor. Sorry, I meant to say that was an issue for Taylor. As a junior, Taylor upped his reception total to 26, good for a 10.4% reception share. When a challenge arises for Jonathan Taylor he tends to meet it.

Combine

The former-Badger certainly rose to the challenge of the NFL Scouting Combine. First off, the weigh-in is an underrated portion of the combine. The weigh-in serves, not only as a measure of durability, but as a measure of perception among NFL coaches. Aaron Jones, Duke Johnson, Jerick McKinnon, Alvin Kamara, all these players have had their workload limited to some degree because they’re perceived as satellite backs or not durable enough. Jonathan Taylor will never face this question after he measured in at 226 pounds. Likewise, Jonathan Taylor measured in at 5’10, where some were concerned he’d be only 5’9. Absurdly, this is probably meaningful to some NFL teams.

Step one for Taylor, was not to embarrass himself in the jumping and agility drills. Luckily, Taylor performed to an average level (if not better) in all these drills. Weighing in at 226 pounds, and scoring at (we’ll say) a B+ level in the agility and jumping drills, set the stage for the 40 time, and the all important speed score. You can read more about the importance of speed score here.

Amazingly, Taylor exceeded the lofty combine expectations set for him. Running, what was first deemed a 4.41, but later corrected to a 4.39 in the forty. In terms of speed score that weight/speed  translates to a 121.7  That was best in class among 2020 RB prospects and among the best ever at the position. If we’re giving Taylor a B+ in the agility and jumping drills we have to give him an A+ for speed score. As it happens, speed score is weighed more heavily in this particular class, so Taylor aced the combine as a whole.

Jonathan Taylor is a Football Prodigy

There are those who would hold the past failures of Wisconsin RBs against Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin has a long history of sending RBs to the NFL, but surprisingly only 3 in the least decade: Montee Ball, James White, and Melvin Gordon. James White is obviously a very different type of back, so no need to compare the two at any length. While I’d argue that Taylor is actually a superior prospect to Gordon, Gordon’s career is in no way a failure. Montee Ball’s pro career, assuredly was a failure (sorry to drag you like that Montee.)

Jonathan Taylor is Not Montee Ball

This may seem an unnecessary question to some, but what makes Jonathan Taylor different from Montee Ball? For one, Taylor was productive at a much earlier age than Ball. As we’ve seen, Taylor ran for just shy of 2,000 yards as a true freshman, while Ball wasn’t a lead back until his junior year. That lead to Jonathan Taylor declaring early, whereas Montee Ball stayed through his senior year. That’s important for three reasons:

  1. It gives dynasty owners an extra year of production at a short-lived position
  2. Early declaration is generally a sign of how NFL teams view a player
  3. It speaks to a sort of “football savant” factor
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Jonathan Taylor is More Athletic Than Montee Ball (duh)

Jonathan Taylor Combine Results

  • Height: 5’10
  • Weight: 226
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.39
  • Bench Press: 17 Reps
  • Vertical Jump: 36″
  • Broad Jump: 10’3
  • 3 Cone: 7.01
  • Short Shuttle: 4.24
  • Speed Score: 121.7
  • Burst Score: 122.7
  • Agility Score: 11.25

Montee Ball Combine Results

  • Height: 5’10
  • Weight: 214
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.66
  • Bench Press: 15 Reps
  • Vertical Jump: 32″
  • Broad Jump: 9’10
  • 3 Cone: 6.88
  • Short Shuttle: 4.40
  • Speed Score: 94.8
  • Burst Score: 113.4
  • Agility Score: 11.28

Largely, those results speak for themselves, but to flesh them out a little more: Jonathan Taylor is 12 pounds heavier than Montee Ball. Despite this, Taylor is nearly 3-tenths of a second faster. This leads to a nearly 30 point lead in speed score for the current Wisconsin back over his indirect predecessor. While the agility scores are nearly identical, the burst score is much better for Taylor. Now, burst score is more of a “nice to have” for RBs than a necessity, still, it’s something. So, Jonathan Taylor is faster, younger, more productive, more bursty, and bigger than Montee Ball was. To put than another way, he’s better at everything. Jonathan Taylor is not Montee Ball.

He’s Also More Athletic Than Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott Combine Results

  • Height: 6’0
  • Weight: 225
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.47
  • Bench Press: N/A
  • Vertical Jump: 32″
  • Broad Jump: N/A
  • 3 Cone: N/A
  • Short Shuttle: N/A
  • Speed Score: 112.7
  • Burst Score: N/A
  • Agility Score: N/A

Being more athletic than Montee Ball is a low bar, so let’s look at the aforementioned Zeke. Elliott largely skipped combine drills. The rule of thumb is that any drills a player skipped can be assumed as average at best. Zeke did participate in the 40, and thus registered a speed score. An excellent speed score to boot, but Taylor beat it nonetheless. I go back to the Ezekiel Elliott comparison, in part because that’s who Jonathan Taylor reminds me of stylistically. Incidentally, player profiler agrees. Neither Elliott or Taylor are overly natural receivers, but are capable of being on the field enough to receive volume there. In addition, both are able to build up the raw kinetic force to house a screen pass.

Jonathan Taylor is the Clear 1.01

In my view, he’s the clear first overall pick in rookie drafts. Some remain skeptical of Taylor‘s newfound receiving ability. For what it’s worth, Melvin Gordon was also unproductive as a receiver until his final season, yet has emerged as a serviceable pass-catcher as a pro. To be clear, Taylor will never be Christian McCaffrey, but could he put up 60-80 targets a season? Absolutely. Bottom line, Jonathan Taylor is going to be somewhere between a very good to great fantasy asset (with the latter more likely if you see the world through my eyes.) Take him with any 1.01 rookie picks you have, set him into your lineup, but never forget him.

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