There is absolutely no doubt that Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badgers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. Taylor is sixth on the all-time rushing yards leaders list and would have passed everyone in front of him had he played his senior year in Madison.
No. 1 on the list is former Badger Ron Dayne, who rushed for 7,125 yards in four seasons with the Badgers. No. 33 also was able to win the Doak Walker Award and the Heisman Trophy his last season with Wisconsin in 1999.
When Taylor announced that he was moving on to play in the NFL shortly after the Rose Bowl, No. 23 had accumulated 6,174 yards rushing (and 50 touchdowns) and had averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season.
Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.
Although Taylor never won the Heisman Trophy, he did win back-to-back Doak Walker Awards in 2018 and 2019.
Had Taylor played in 2020 with the Badgers, it was virtually certain (unless he was injured) that he would have been the all-time rushing leader in college football history and by a wide margin.
Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.
The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.
Ball security has to be the number one item that Taylor has to improve on. That being said, in his junior year, a number of the fumbles occurred while the Badgers were running the Wildcat offense and also when Taylor was fighting for extra yards.
Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.
Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.
NFL scout Chris Landry noted this about Taylor’s performance at the combine:
“Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.”
In terms of of the 2020 NFL draft, I believe it’s a real possibility that the Green Bay Packers might select Taylor at pick No. 30 in Round No. 1.
There are several reasons. For one, head coach Matt LaFleur runs the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.
Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.
“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”
Being put in space is something the Packers do on third down with running back Aaron Jones, who is coming off a great 2019 season. Besides rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns, Jones showed off his great receiving skills last season, as he had 49 catches for 474 yards and three scores.
Both Jones and fellow running back Jamaal Williams are slated to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2020 season.
That being said, there is a mutual interest in extending the contract of Jones, as the Packers were slated to meet with the agent of Jones last week to talk about getting a new deal done for No. 33 as he enters his final contract year.
So, why would the Packers draft another running back, especially in Round 1?
All one has to do is look at the running game of the San Francisco 49ers which is three-deep (and at times four-deep) in terms of quality depth. LaFleur basically learned the outside zone scheme from working with the current coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan.
LaFleur and the Packers learned a painful lesson in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, as the Niners ran for a whopping 285 yards, with 220 yards coming from running back Rasheem Mostert, as the 49ers beat the Packers 37-20.
San Francisco was second in the NFL in rushing with 2,305 yards in 2019 and had three running backs who ran for at least 540 yards last season. Mostert ran for 772 yards, while Matt Breida ran for 623 yards and Tevin Coleman rushed for 544 yards.
And when there were some injury issues, a fourth running back, Jeff Wilson, ran for 125 yards. Add to that, wide receiver Deebo Samuel was also utilized on end around plays and jet sweeps, as he rushed for 159 yards.
The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last year, but by adding a weapon like Taylor would surely enhance the running game.
Plus, let’s not forget that Jones was shut down in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to knee injuries.
Williams is a solid back, especially on third down due to his pass-blocking ability and his receiving skills, but he is not the game-breaker that Jones is or Taylor is.
Plus by adding the former Badger, both Jones and Taylor can be utilized at the same time. For instance, Jones could be utilized in the passing or running game like the Niners use Samuel in the slot, while Taylor is in the backfield.
Improving the running game will also help quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, as play-action passes have a much better rate of success, plus defenses will put more players in the box to stop the run, which opens up deep passing lanes.
Just take a look at the 2016 Atlanta Falcons when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and LaFleur was the quarterback coach.
The Dirty Birds had a great running back combination with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two rushed for almost 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,944 yards.
Ryan was named NFL MVP in 2016.
The Packers go into the 2020 NFL draft with 10 picks overall. The Packers have a first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks.
The Packers have a number of needs going into the draft. The two most glaring needs are at wide receiver and at inside linebacker.
The Packers need to find a bookend to Davante Adams at receiver. Fortunately for the Packers, the 2020 wide receiver class in the draft is one of the deepest in several years. The Packers can select a very good receiver in Round 2 because of the depth in this class.
By the way, Adams was a second-round pick by the Packers in 2014.
The Packers are most likely moving on from Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, as he is an unrestricted free agent. No. 50 is a tackling machine no doubt, but his lack of speed hurts him when he chases down running backs on the edge, as well as in pass coverage.
Both positions can be improved before the draft because general manager Brian Gutekunst is not afraid to go after players he targets in free agency.
All one has to do is look at the haul Gutekunst made in 2019, when he signed safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Preston Smith, linebacker Za’Darius Smith and guard Billy Turner.
Gutekunst is reportedly interested in a couple of players who could definitely help the Packers. One is tight end Austin Hooper of the Falcons, while the other is inside linebacker Joe Schobert of the Cleveland Browns. Schobert hails from Waukesha, Wisconsin and also played his college football for the Badgers in Madison.
If Jimmy Graham is cut by the Packers, it would free up an additional $8 million in salary cap space. That money could be utilized to help sign Hooper, who had his rookie year when LaFleur was the QB coach in Atlanta.
In the past two years with the Falcons, the 6-4, 254-pound Hooper has caught 146 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The 6-1, 245-pound Schobert made a number of big plays for the Browns defensively, as he had two sacks, four interceptions, 13 passes broken up and two forced fumbles in 2019. Schobert plays the pass much better than Martinez, plus also is a tackling machine against the run, as in 2017, Schobert tied with Martinez and Buffalo’s Preston Brown for the NFL lead in tackles with 144.
There is also speculation that the Packers might be interested in bringing back slot receiver Randall Cobb. The former Kentucky Wildcat played with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, after spending eight years in Green Bay.
That will be an interesting dynamic regarding Cobb, if indeed the Packers are interested in bringing him back. In Dallas, he could be reunited with head coach Mike McCarthy, while if he comes back to Green Bay, he would be back with many of his closest friends, including Rodgers.
Cobb had a good year for the Cowboys in 2019 playing mostly slot receiver, as he had 55 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns.
Time will tell what Gutekunst will do in free agency this year, but one thing is for sure, he looks a lot more like Ron Wolf when he headed the front office of the Packers than the man who proceeded him at GM, Ted Thompson.
Wolf utilized free agency freely, while Thompson rarely dipped his toes into those types of transactions. And when he did, it was usually after a player was cut by his former team (see Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers) or by signing undrafted rookie or street free agents.
If Gutekunst can help the team via free agency before the draft, then the Packers don’t have to focus on need as much in Round 1, as opposed to selecting the best player available.
Taylor might just be the best player available at pick No. 30 on the draft board of the Packers, especially knowing what an impact he would have with the Green Bay outside zone running scheme. Not to mention adding another home run threat to the offensive backfield and adding quality depth behind Jones.
When Round 1 of the 2020 NFL draft takes place on April 23rd, don’t be shocked if the Packers select another stud running back to make their outside zone running scheme even more dangerous.
That running back could be Jonathan Taylor.