Everyone has those seemingly obvious decisions they regret. Something so clear and precise that they talk themselves out of it, in large part due to how easy it seems.
For many NFL organizations, that decision goes by the name of Jonathan Taylor.
A star on his way to a potential MVP season, Taylor has been nothing short of dominant all year, with that elite play happening to culminate in a breathtaking five-touchdown performance against a ‘vaunted’ Buffalo Bills defense on Sunday. The historical outing—as well as his unbelievable statistical pace—is garnering major media attention nationwide. But as many look toward fantasy points and MVP discussions, it’s important to remember this isn’t anything new for Taylor. People have just finally stopped overthinking him.
Now it’s easy to look back and see revisionist history take place when it comes to blossoming young athletes—names like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Dak Prescott come to mind in that sense. Players with question marks at the time, that, even when looking back, do make some sort of sense in their respective draft-day slides. Taylor, despite being undervalued by myself and thousands of others, is the exact opposite of that.
Whether it be from an athletic, production, or character standpoint, Taylor shattered every single box pre-draft, dominating the combine, breaking rushing records left and right, and acing interviews with NFL organizations. There were no injury concerns. No off-field red flags. No competition question marks. Nothing.
He ran for nearly 2000 yards as an 18-year-old freshman at a massive Power 5 program, before also going ahead and rushing for more than that benchmark each of his next two seasons. He was a track star who posted better 100-yard dash times in high school (10.49) than electric NFL jitterbugs like Rondale Moore at basically twice the size. He could squat 605 pounds and clean 350 before he reached 20 years old. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the fastest mark for someone his size at running back ever. He was the only college rusher to ever run for more than 6,000 yards in a three-year span. He would have obliterated the FBS career rushing record if he played a fourth year in college—and would’ve likely been considered the de facto best collegiate rusher of all time.
Yet, even with all of this in mind, Taylor never finished better than fifth in Heisman voting, wasn’t the first (or second) back picked in his draft class, and didn’t end up as a first-round selection.
There was literally nothing more he could have done, but Taylor—like many before him—fell victim to the overthinking nature of the draft process. The fact he was dominant at such a young age made him pop up on radars earlier than most, and with that increased exposure came more time for people to nitpick his little flaws and make mountains out of molehills. We saw it a little bit this past year with Ja’Marr Chase. We saw it when an elite, god-tier athlete in D.K. Metcalf fell to the back of Round 2 in 2019. Taylor is just the latest example of this trend.
Whether it was fumble concerns (had 18 throughout his collegiate career), his lack of pass-catching production (never had much success in that regard), his huge workload (was run into the ground by Wisconsin regularly), or even his top-end speed (yes, some people actually questioned that), Taylor’s throwback style and early success threw evaluators for a loop—whether it was intentional or not.
We can go through each of these so-called concerns and find differing levels of problems with them. There wasn’t really anything wrong with questioning his fumbles or pass-game work, it’s just that those skills were overvalued in relation to the rest of what he can do (and he also worked hard to get better as a receiver once he hit the pros). Assuming he’d be burnt out due to carries when multiple studies have shown no correlation between CFB workload and NFL success, as well as the weird top-end speed critiques, are much, much worse. All you needed to do was watch him run track at Wisconsin, look at his 100-meter times that rivaled the fastest 180-pound wide receivers in the nation, and do really anything besides helmet scouting and you could have seen those were non-issues.
The easier route, however, was looking at those past Wisconsin backs like Montee Ball and Ron Dayne—prolific college running backs who struggled in the NFL—and just assuming Taylor would fall victim to the same state. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a flashier, newer toy. D'Andre Swift was an SEC back with nasty highlight reel jukes filling SportsCenter. Taylor and his ‘boring ole Wisconsin self’ was just the best athlete and producer at the position in a decade.
At the end of the day, I do still like to think I saw Taylor in a solid light pre-draft—he was my RB2 and a top-20 player on my board—but it’s clear just a year and a bit later that even that rating was criminally low.
So what do you do when you miss on a player like I did? You try to learn a lesson. And the lesson with Taylor is that you shouldn’t doubt a Thanos-like athlete that also happens to be the best collegiate runner of the last century.