Twenty-one seasons after a New Jersey freshman running back named Ron Dayne burst onto the college scene with a 2,000-yard season at Wisconsin, the Badgers have another freshman stud from the Garden State.
Jonathan Taylor is carrying on Dayne’s legacy and succeeding another Jersey native, Corey Clement, in toting the rock for UW with numbing efficiency, part of an endless line of Badgers that includes Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, and on.
He’s mounted 2017’s quietest Heisman finalist campaign.
Taylor won’t win this year, but he’s got a strong case to get to New York. He had almost 1,400 yards (an average o 7 per carry) in his first nine games, to go along with double-digit touchdowns.
The Badgers’ strength is their defense, but Taylor’s by far the biggest reason that their offense has pulled enough weight to win.
Taylor is one of the country’s most complete backs.
A big scouting report sent over by expert: Jake Kocorowski, editor of Wisconsin blog Bucky’s 5th Quarter:
Taylor is already above the curve as a first-year player in his patience and vision. He follows his blockers and finds the holes where they develop. There is also a maturity that is well beyond his years that is seen on and off the field, especially when he already knows to complement his offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks and admitting that his faults. Combine those elements with his physical attributes--strength and power that allows him to trample over defenders for extra yardage, along with top-end speed that allows him to run by opponents--and he's only scratched the surface of his potential in Paul Chryst's offense.
The biggest area of improvement he can work on is fumbling. He has lost four fumbles on the year, including one against Iowa last week (he also coughed it up again in the fourth quarter but Wisconsin recovered). Sometimes fighting for that extra yard is not worth it when the ball is loose in your grip. He also is not used yet much on third downs and in passing situations, so he'll continue to grow in pass blocking and as a receiving threat. He's already shown, in limited touches (three receptions, 55 yards), that he could be a factor in the open field.
Taylor is a listed 5’11 and 214 pounds, not exactly Dayne-sized. He’s got a track background and won New Jersey’s state 100m title as a senior. But Taylor packs a punch. He’s about the same weight and two inches shorter than Gordon was in 2013 and ‘14, and I don’t think their styles are that different. Both are between-the-tackles runners who have the speed to go wider.
Wisconsin has a good offensive line, as usual, but it’d be shortsighted to dismiss him as a product of a system. He’s a patient runner with vision, and he can hit holes with authority. He has a bull’s lower body that he uses to get himself out of trouble, like here:
Taylor has huge legs that make him look more “powerful” than “fast,” but he’s fast as hell. This is legit breakaway speed to shed a defensive back down the sideline:
Taylor is consistent, even by the standards of the country’s elite running backs. Wisconsin’s generally weak schedule is a qualifier, but he averaged better than 4.2 yards per carry and had at least 73 yards total in each of his first nine games.
Like most Badgers, Taylor wasn’t a can’t-miss recruit.
He was a high-three-star prospect on the 247Sports Composite. Before he committed to Wisconsin, he’d been a Rutgers verbal commitment, just like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley was.
Taylor’s other listed offers were from Virginia Tech, Boston College, Temple, Army, and FCS Albany. So of course he’s setting the world on fire.
The scouting report on Taylor then:
As a track star who is undoubtedly the fastest athlete in New Jersey, the 5’11, 211-pound, three-star prospect from Salem, N.J., has a running style that doesn’t fit the archetype. The Rutgers commit has skill between the tackles and runs with balance and power that makes him a dangerous threat from distance because he can make his own moments of green grass and opportunity for six.
Taylor played his high school ball at Salem, in Western New Jersey near the Delaware River. Dayne came from a more central part of the state before becoming the NCAA’s true all-time leading rusher at Wisconsin. So did Clement, who cleared 3,000 yards rushing in his four seasons. All three went to high school within about a one-hour stretch between the Delaware and Wharton State Forest.
Wisconsin does as good a job as any school at competing despite a lack of blue-chip-evaluated talent.
The Badgers are a playoff contender despite having the No. 37 roster in the country on 247’s Team Talent Composite. Lots of teams talk about finding diamonds in the rough and developing them, but the Badgers have done it for years.
In Taylor’s case, maybe he didn’t even need much development. He might’ve just arrived on campus as a star, and Wisconsin will benefit through at least 2019.