INDIANAPOLIS — Fifteen years ago, Jonathan Taylor would have been in the conversation to be the first-overall pick in the NFL draft. In that recent but seemingly distant era of the NFL, Taylor had everything the league could ever want in a running back.
Taylor, who measures at 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds, is expected to run a 40-yard dash in the 4.4 seconds. He offers a rare blend of size, speed, vision and power; and his physical gifts enabled him to lead the Big Ten in rushing yards for three consecutive seasons.
In today’s NFL, Taylor is a desirable prospect but he’s in the “first-round conversation” and is unlikely to get picked early in the order.
Along with J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Taylor is part of a deep crop of talented backs with plenty of quality depth throughout. While each of the top players brings their own individual qualities to the table, none have the body of work or resume that can even compare to Taylor.
It’s what Taylor has been able to achieve throughout the course of his career that he believes distinguishes him from his contemporaries.
“I think it’s my consistency,” Taylor said Wednesday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. “If you look at the next level, what separates the great from the elite backs is really them being able to play at an elite level every Sunday. So, that’s the biggest thing that separates me is my ability to be consistent year in and year out.”
Taylor tore through defenses and rushed for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns across his three seasons at Wisconsin. He is the first running back in FBS history to eclipse the 6,000-yard mark in three seasons and he ranks sixth all-time for rushing yards.
Year-to-year and game-to-game consistency in terms of production is something Taylor can speak confidently about. Taylor finished among the top-10 in the Heisman Trophy voting every year at Wisconsin after logging 32 100-yard rushing performances in 41 career games.
Sustaining success for Taylor didn’t come by resting in his laurels and believing the same components that made him productive in the previous year would just continue to the next. Every year, Taylor committed to digging into the finer details of playing the position and adding more nuance to his game. He credits that as the reason why he’s been able to be so consistent for three seasons.
“Finding little ways to get better,” Taylor shared. “Going from freshman year to sophomore year, [it was] understanding the offensive schemes a little more and adding more patience to my game. From sophomore to junior year it was focusing on third downs and finding ways to be more effective there.”
The strides Taylor made in improving his ability to produce on third downs was critical to maximizing his value to NFL teams. After hauling in just eight passes in both his underclassmen seasons, Taylor hauled in 25 receptions in 2019 which included five receiving touchdowns.
While the ability to produce as a receiver is paramount for NFL backs to earn a heavy workload, Taylor will undoubtedly see a dip in his utilization at the next level even if his future team sees him as an every-down back. The volume of touches just isn’t the same as it once was in the NFL and most teams prefer to have a committee approach in the backfield.
Despite 968 offensive touches in three seasons at Wisconsin, Taylor is content with however his NFL team desires to use him. In fact, it’s that same consistency that made him one of college football's most historically-productive runners that he believes will enable him to shine in any role at the next level.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Taylor said. “The biggest thing is being consistent whether I’m getting the ball 12 times a game or 20 times a game. My biggest thing is making sure that when my number is called that I’m playing at a high level and doing it every single time.”
Executing at a high level has always been the case for Taylor, and he’s primed to continue that in the NFL regardless of what or how much he is asked to do.