2020 NFL Draft: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor

  • Name (#): Jonathan Taylor (#23)
  • Position: RB
  • College: Wisconsin 
  • Height: 5’10″ 
  • Weight: 226 lbs
  • 40-time: 4.39 seconds
  • Length: 31 ⅛” 
  • Career Statistics: 926 Attempts, 6174 Yards, 50 Touchdowns. 42 Receptions, 407 Yards, 5 Touchdowns. 
  • Season Statistics: 320 Attempts, 2003 Yards, 21 Touchdowns. 26 Receptions, 252 Yards, 5 Touchdowns. 
  • Games played: 41
  • Games started: 40
  • Games watched: 2018 Nebraska, 2019 Ohio St. (2x), Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska
  • Prepared by: Nathan Papandrea

Summary (by Erik Turner)

Wisconsin Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor is one of the better prospects that you are going to watch on film or read about in the 2020 NFL Draft class. The three-year starter appeared in 41 games and started 40 of them. Aside from being highly dependable week in and week out, he is an absolute thoroughbred for his team. He’s carried the rock 926 times in his three years for a total of 6,174 yards, which is an NCAA record for a player’s first three years, but he also pitched in a whopping 50 touchdowns.


(Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 5-foot-10, 226-pound back sports a tight, muscular frame that can withstand the wear and tear of an NFL running back. Taylor’s size comes in handy as a runner between the tackles, and he is the best back in the draft in this area. In 2019, 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns out of his 2,002 yards and 21 touchdowns came in the tackle box.

Volume up

That’s because he is super patient as he presses the line of scrimmage in the Badgers’ highly complex run scheme. He’s “slow to and fast through” the hole in order to time up the moment of truth. He understands how to change the tempo and pace of his track en route to the aiming point in order to buy his offensive linemen that half second to needed lure linebackers downhill for his linemen to pick up.

The nuance in his approach to the line of scrimmage is poetry in motion.

He uses short, choppy steps or light jump cuts to let the run blocking develop, and then once it’s time to hit the burners, his feet are in position to explode north and south.

Taylor is a former highly-decorated track star who won state championships in the 100-meters and 4×100 relay in New Jersey, and you can see that speed manifest itself on the turf. Simply put, he isn’t a home-run hitter, he’s a grand slam hitter.

Taylor routinely uses his speed to fire through an entry point at the line of scrimmage, rendering defensive linemen ineffective as they try to disengage and make the tackle on him. But he disappears out of their grasp as if they are clutching at a hologram.

The three-time 2,000-yard rusher doesn’t only set up his blocks well, but he also has the best understanding of leverage of any back in this draft. He is playing chess, not checkers.

He processes leverage so quickly that his cuts always have purpose. They will put him in a more advantageous position, such as putting him 1-on-1 rather than 1-on-3, or help his fullback block two guys rather than just one as Taylor gets north or south to be the nail in the coffin at the end of a game.

While his vision and speed consistently set him up for success, when he needs to break a tackle he can do that in myriad ways. He’s shown a decent stiff-arm and spin move, but more times than not he relies on his body to cash the check.

When he is near the top of his 4.39-forty speed, defenders slide off of his frame. When bigger linebackers are able to match his physicality at contact, his leg drive will get him a few extra yards after contact. In fact, Taylor broke 83 tackles in 2019 and finished second in the nation with yards after contact, racking up 1,199 yards after a defender locked horns with him.

In the passing game, he has shown the ability to catch the ball in the screen game, as an outlet underneath, or in the flats. He intently focuses and looks the ball in and can make quick, tight adjustments in a tight spot to get his eyes north. His pass blocking skills are decent, as well, specifically in sprint-out protections or on the back side of slide protections. He executes textbook cut block technique by waiting until the last second, attacking low across the thigh pads, then rolling to finish the block off.

At times when aligned next to the quarterback in the shotgun, you can see some of his minor limitations. The angles of approach to the line of scrimmage are slightly different in gun than from the “dot” with the quarterback under center or in the pistol. When in gun, his vision, decision -making, and overall effectiveness are impacted. Taylor’s no-nonsense, north/south approach inside hindered some of his vision and decision-making on runs that were meant to hit along the perimeter.

If he sees a sliver of daylight inside, he will chase it, sometimes leaving a big play on the table. Exercising a little more patience and simply following his pulling linemen out wide would have created a few more explosive plays, which is a scary thought.

Taylor’s average lateral agility, tight hips and ankles make him very one dimensional.

Some of his stiffness forces him to waste precious real estate throttling down instead of making a decisive cut and hitting that next gear.

Sudden jump cuts or shoulder shakes to elude defenders completely aren’t Taylor’s calling card. He understands how to set up late, sharp cuts, but at times he shows indecision and makes the cut too late and gets hung up on his lineman’s block. His lateral cuts just don’t cover enough ground to create distance. In the end, he’s a business-like runner not an overly creative runner.

In the passing game, every now and then he will fail to attack an edge rusher in protection, choosing instead to let that rusher come to him before cutting him. But that hesitation can create trash at his quarterback’s feet as Taylor upends his man on a cut block. The hulking back wasn’t used often in the passing game; he was usually subbed out. That’s because he did have some drops when targeted. At times he would look the ball in bu then drop it as he went to tuck it away. Over the course of his career, he reeled in 42 passes, 26 of which came in his final season. That’s because on obvious passing downs, Taylor’s stiffness and lack of upper-end agility don’t always match his insane athleticism on paper, and you can see that when he runs routes.

Taylor struggles to throttle down and execute the nuance needed to make sharp, direct cuts. His routes end up rounded, which can sometimes leave him out of reach of an anticipation throw a quarterback made to a spot.

Finally, aside from vision, ball security is top trait when scouting a running back  This is Taylor’s bugaboo. Eighteen fumbles in three years, of which 15 of were lost, is the biggest wart marring his prestigious career. As Taylor is wrapped up, secondary defenders come in and are able to tear the ball out of his grasp. There are no excuses; this will need to be cleaned up and can be.

Overall, Taylor is a blue-chip, first-round prospect who can start day one. He has the dependability you look for in a starting running back in the NFL, and his traits project into any run scheme. His speed and vision are the foundation of his game. He varies his speed to set up blocks and to create running lanes, which he can hit at top speed, which in turn erases angles from pursuing defenders. Taylor appears to be most comfortable from the dot because it suits his north/south run style and minimizes his struggles to make defenders miss when he has to stop and go. While he isn’t the most creative runner, Taylor is the type of runner that can be the center of the game plan, extend offensive drives, and take one to the house on any given play or close out a game for his team.


Full Film Room Session