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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Jonathan Taylor vs. Maryland

Jonathan Taylor scored five touchdowns in Wisconsin's 48-0 win over Kent State. Taylor also passed Melvin Gordon for third-most rushing yards in program history. 

Running for history: How Jonathan Taylor has become the best college back ever

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor has enjoyed an extraordinary 2019 season thus far, appearing nearly unstoppable each time he carries the rock. On a bad day, his numbers have still lit up the box score. On Saturday, Kent State fell victim to Taylor’s dominance, yielding 215 total yards and five touchdowns to number 23 in red. Even more impressively, Taylor racked up all of those numbers with only 22 touches, a video game-like 9.7 yard average. 

Only five games into the season, college football’s undisputed top tailback has rushed for 745 yards, averaging 7.2 per carry. Sixteen touchdowns would constitute a tremendous twelve game season, Taylor has already reached that milestone on the first weekend of October. Stretched over the Badgers’ twelve game schedule, Taylor’s stat line projects to be 2,061 scrimmage yards and, of course, thirty-eight touchdowns.

Based on Jonathan Taylor’s résumé, which is beyond impressive, one might assume that the running back has always been a highly touted superstar, coming into college with offers from all of football’s biggest programs, and an overinflated ego. 

However Taylor, Salem, New Jersey’s humble three-star recruit only had offers from Rutgers, Boston College, Army, a few other schools and of course Wisconsin. Unlike several of the nation’s top recruits each year, Taylor didn’t host an eager Nick Saban or an enthused Urban Meyer in his living room to discuss his future. 

Taylor’s scouting report, courtesy of 247 Sports, referenced “good vision, a sneaky shiftiness, and thick legs”, statements with which any Wisconsin fan would agree. The one critique in the report, however, involved Taylor’s speed, claiming that “Taylor needs to improve his top end speed once he gets past the second level.” 

Sure, Taylor may not be the fastest, but he’s fast enough, as apparent on his seventy-two yard touchdown scamper against Michigan earlier this season. 

Entering his freshman season in 2017, Jonathan Taylor had a pair of very big and empty shoes to fill. Superstar tailbacks Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon, along with other talented receiving backs, like James White and Corey Clement, had all moved on to the NFL in recent years. 

With the notorious game manager Alex Hornibrook under center, and head coach Paul Chryst’s defensive background, the Badger offense was inevitably going to be predominantly run-first. 

That 2017 roster included nine tailbacks, but Taylor wasted no time in establishing himself as the leader of the pack. In week two, to the delight of Camp Randall’s 80,000 occupants, Taylor dealt Florida Atlantic one of his signature beatdowns. 

The three-star recruit, with his supposedly inadequate speed, ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns, his first of three 200+ yard games in that freshman campaign. At season’s end, Taylor had carried the Badgers with nearly 2,000 yards, thirteen touchdowns, and an Orange Bowl championship. 

Not a terrible start for an under-the-radar freshman recruit. 

If Jonathan Taylor experienced any fatigue from his first college season, it didn’t show in 2018. In fact, the budding superstar only built upon his early success. In only one game, a late October loss to Northwestern, did Taylor rush for fewer than 100 yards. 

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Among several stellar outings in 2018, Taylor’s undisputed best performance came against Purdue, when he ran for 321 yards and three touchdowns, a feat that would seem all the more impressive had Melvin Gordon and Samaje Perine not both surpassed 400 yards in 2014. 2,200 yards, sixteen scores, and another Bowl victory in 2018 cemented Taylor’s status as the premier tailback in college football. 

As Taylor jukes, stiff-arms, and bursts his way through yet another season, he plays for something larger than pretty box scores and a bowl victory. From a team standpoint, if Wisconsin is to make a late-season push for the College Football Playoff, Taylor must carry a majority of the weight on his shoulders. He has ran the Badgers to an undefeated record thus far, but the schedule only gets tougher from here on out, and anything short of outstanding play from Taylor could result in a season-altering loss. 

Personally, Taylor has several pivotal decisions to make in the coming months. The general consensus is that he will enter the NFL draft, but with another year of NCAA eligibility, nothing is set in stone. If Taylor does intend to leave Wisconsin, does he prioritize a potential bowl game for the Badgers or preparation for the NFL Draft Combine?

Whether it occurs in 2020 or 2021, Taylor’s draft experience will almost certainly prove successful and lucrative. Running backs Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, and Saquon Barkley were each picked in the top five of their respective drafts. Each played three college seasons and posted stats with close resemblance to those of Taylor. 

Football is a volatile game that offers no guarantees to even the greatest players, but a not-too-unlikely scenario for Jonathan Taylor involves a Heisman Trophy, a National Championship, and a hefty rookie NFL contract, among other honors. 

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