Will Jonathan Taylor be next great Wisconsin running back in the NFL?

NFL Draft

Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft class and he could be the next great out of Wisconsin.

There haven’t been many more productive running backs in the history of college football than Jonathan Taylor and it’s no surprise he comes from one of the programs that touts itself as ‘RBU’.

Wisconsin has produced a wealth of strong running backs over the years and the most popular had to have been Ron Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner. He is actually college football’s all-time leading rusher, posting over 7,100 career yards from 1996-99 before getting drafted No. 11 overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.

During his career, Dayne ran for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Giants, Broncos and Texans from 2000-07. His NFL career wasn’t nearly as prolific nor successful as his time in Madison, but he still paved the way for other Wisconsin running backs. He started ‘RBU’ at Wisconsin and others have followed his lead.

After Dayne, the next elite back to come from Wisconsin was Michael Bennett just a year later. He followed up two backup seasons behind Dayne with a breakout junior year with over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns which translated into a late-first round pick in the 2001 draft. He was a Pro Bowler in his second season but didn’t rush for over 500 yards again for the rest of his career.

Still, Wisconsin groomed him for longevity as Bennett played 10 seasons in the NFL.

And then there was Montee Ball. The former Wisconsin back had a record-breaking career with the Badgers, breaking the NCAA’s all-time touchdowns record as well as the single-season scoring mark. He finished his career with 83 touchdowns and had 5,140 yards rushing. He put the Badgers back on the map in terms of running backs and earned himself a second-round pick in 2013.

Though Ball fizzled out after a few unsuccessful seasons in the NFL, he helped open the door for James White and Melvin Gordon after him.

White had a couple of 1,000-yard seasons with the Badgers and 45 rushing touchdowns but didn’t get as much recognition as the back who followed him in 2014.

That was Gordon.

Gordon and White combined for a devastating one-two punch in 2013 when the former rushed for 1,600-plus yards but decided to come back in 2014 when he posted over 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per touch. Gordon was picked No. 15 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and has been to two Pro Bowls since.

So will Taylor be the next successful NFL running back, joining Gordon and White as former Badger running backs currently on active rosters?

Seeing as he’s a combination of previous Wisconsin greats, I’m going to say yes.

Taylor might have more miles than your average draft prospect, rushing 926 times in three years with over 6,000 yards to show for it. He took a lot of hits but he also had some clean runs thanks to a strong offensive line. Averaging 300-plus carries a year in college still isn’t ideal, but it shows he can be a workhorse at the next level.

On top of being a potential volume guy, Taylor has the speed and shiftiness of a player like Gordon as well as the toughness of Ball. He may not quite be the pass-catcher than White is, but he showed some progress in that regard in 2019, catching a career-high 26 passes for 252 yards and five touchdowns. That’s still a developing portion of his game and could continue to improve at the next level. He has show the ability to catch passes and that’s all some NFL teams need.

Some NFL draft experts have Taylor listed as the No. 1 back in the 2020 class while others have him in the 3-4 range, but there’s not much of a difference between No. 1 and No. 4 this year.

Still, Taylor has as much, or more, franchise back potential of any rusher in this year’s class.

Taylor will be the next great running back to come out of Wisconsin and he may end up having the longest career of the group.

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