Chris Ballard made Jonathan Taylor the first running back off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft.
By most accounts, it was a good choice.
After all, Taylor is one of only three running backs in NCAA history to boast a pair of 2,000-yard seasons.
And he didn´t miss a third by much with 1977 yards in his first season at Wisconsin.
"What are they getting?"
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) April 24, 2020
But that didn´t stop someone from taking a shot at Ballard´s decision to move up in the second round for his man.
An article filed by Sando Friday did not name the executive or his team affiliation.
But he quoted the mystery man as saying of Taylor,
“He bounces stuff outside a lot. He is a big guy that runs fast, but he doesn’t play big and he fumbles.”
Does this unidentified critic have a valid point?
Or maybe it´s sour grapes from a GM who lost out on the former Wisconsin star.
Let´s take a look at his assertions.
Jonathan Taylor Plays Plenty Big
Jonathan Taylor racked up over 1200 yards after first contact last season.
Most pre-draft assessments noted his ability to maintain balance and move forward in traffic.
A bruising in between and outside of the tackles type of runner, whose durability and endurance were often put to the test.
That doesn´t sound like someone who “doesn´t play big.”
The NFL Network´s pre-draft assessment seems to side with Taylor´s unnamed critic.
“Not a powerful pile mover in tight quarters,” is how they put it.
But it is the NFL´s compliments of Taylor that might explain why the NFL executive alludes to some lack of power.
In fact, several assessments note Taylor´s ability to slide along blocks and his habit of bouncing outside.
One could call this patience and taking what the blockers give him.
Or one could allude to an aversion to power running up the gut.
But few will argue Taylor runs hard, strong, and balanced inside the tackles.
He just happens to possess the speed and quickness to jump outside on occasion.
Jonathan Taylor Does Not Have an NFL Fumbling Problem
Well, this is a matter of semantics since Taylor has yet to take the field for as much as an NFL practice.
But a lot is being made of Taylors 18 fumbles in three seasons at Wisconsin.
Probably too much.
New Colts RB Jonathan Taylor's 12 games with at least 200 yards rushing is the most any player in Football Bowl Subdivision history. Taylor, though, lost 15 of his 18 fumbles. Colts RB coach Tom Rathman will fix that. Rathman fumbled only 7 times in nearly 900 career touches
— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNFL) April 25, 2020
Plenty of players who fumbled a lot in college, or even their first NFL season or two, found success in the NFL.
History tells us fumbling is a correctable dilemma.
Indianapolis Colts fans don´t have to dig far for an example they are familiar with.
Marlon Mack fumbled 12 times in 586 college carries, a rate higher than Taylor´s.
Under running back coach Tom Rathman, Mack fumbled twice in 442 chances.
Let’s take a big-picture view:
Jonathan Taylor had 18 fumbles on 926 carries at Wisconsin — a 1.9% rate.
Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2019, had five fumbles on 303 carries — a 1.7% rate.
Colts RBs under Tom Rathman had ONE combined fumble in 2019. Taylor's fine. https://t.co/VGkpgtQGvv
— Andrew Walker (@AWalkerColts) May 1, 2020
In fact, all the Colts running backs combined lost only one fumble in 2019.
Reigning NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry fumbled at a 1.7 percent rate last year.
That is only slightly better than Taylor´s collegiate 1.9 percent rate.
But nobody is suggesting Henry might become an NFL bust.
Taylor´s 2019 ball handling already improved from his first Wisconsin season.
He held the ball higher and showed more awareness of defenders as the season went along.
What About Jonathan Taylor´s Mileage?
Wisconsin handed the ball to Taylor 926 times in three seasons.
There is legitimate concern about how much that workload will take off his NFL shelf life.
But head coach Frank Reich doesn´t need to run Taylor another 300 times in 2020.
Marlon Mack will handle a chunk of the offense´s running load.
Taylor´s experience and talent running behind multiple schemes tag him as an “NFL-ready” contributor.
When Jonathan Taylor gets in a groove, he's unstoppable. Case in point when he ran for 321 yards (!!) on 33 carries against Purdue.
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) April 25, 2020
But there is a cautionary tale Indianapolis is undoubtedly aware of.
Wisconsin´s Ron Dayne also ran for over 2,000 yards twice before the New York Giants drafted him in 2000.
In four seasons with New York, Dayne never averaged as much a 4-yards per carry.
He finished a mundane career as a part-time player with the Broncos and Texans.
Or should we bring up Ron Dayne??? Over 1,200 carries at Wisconsin, and didn't have a single 1,000 yard season in the NFL……….
— The Gridiron Guys (@Gridir0nGuys) April 26, 2020
Iowa State´s Troy Davis labored through three unexciting seasons in New Orleans after gaining 4300 yards in two NCAA seasons.
But each of those players had issues that helped limit their NFL effectiveness.
Chris Ballard rarely moves up to take a player in the annual draft.
He undoubtedly did his homework on Jonathan Taylor.
Ballard and Taylor will make at least one unnamed NFL executive eat his words.