Jonathan Taylor Makes His Case to Be NFL Draft's Top RB with Blazing 40

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 29, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Running back Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Despite a wildly productive career at the University of Wisconsin that saw him accrue consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons and the sixth-most yards on the ground in FBS history, Jonathan Taylor didn't enter the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine as the No. 1 running back on most big boards. Most draftniks (including Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller) gave that honor to Georgia's D'Andre Swift.

After the running back workouts Friday evening in Indianapolis, there may need to be some adjustments to those boards. Because while Swift and Clyde Edwards-Helaire both had good workouts, Taylor had a great one—including posting the two fastest 40 times at his position.

Taylor was hardly a secret entering the combine. After all, the 5'10", 226-pounder has been the most productive tailback in college football over the past two years. In 2018, Taylor rumbled for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns on 307 carries. Last year, he piled up 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns on 320 attempts.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

And according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, Taylor believes that his ability to consistently produce as the foundation of an offense sets him apart.

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"One of the biggest things is the consistency that I've shown," Taylor said on PFT Live. "If you look at the next level, what makes a great back, an elite back and a legendary back is the consistency. Being able to come in each and every single Sunday, each and every single year and be able to play at that high level."

There's no shortage of tape of Taylor putting on a show Saturday afternoons. But Friday, NFL scouts wanted to see a different kind of show. They wanted to see agility. And explosiveness. And speed.

Taylor didn't disappoint. Quite the opposite.

After peeling off 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, a 36-inch vertical and a 123-inch broad jump, he took to the track to run the "dash for cash."

And boy, oh boy, did Taylor run.

His unofficial time of 4.41 seconds on his first 40 attempt was the fastest of any running back at this year's combine. He then backed that up with the second-fastest time—4.42 seconds.

Keep in mind, he did that at 226 pounds. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football, that made Taylor one of just two backs in the last seven combines to run a sub-4.5 at 225 pounds or more.

The other? Saquon Barkley two years ago.

That got scouts at Lucas Oil Stadium buzzing. When the official time came in, that buzz turned into a roar.

4.39 seconds. Faster than Barkley in 2018. Faster than Ezekiel Elliott (at 225 lbs) in 2016. Faster than David Johnson (at 224) in 2015. And Nick Chubb in 2018.

Faster than Adrian Peterson in 2007. For reals.

Taylor's 40 time quickly became the story of Friday's workouts. And as NFL Next Gen Stats pointed out, it was the highlight of a showing that put Taylor is some rarefied air.

As wild as it sounds, that 40 may not have been the most impressive thing Taylor did Friday. After scorching the track, he fared well in both the agility and pass-catching drills—the latter of which could go a long way toward alleviating concerns about his lack of receiving stats in Madison.

In short, Taylor did just about everything he set out to in Indianapolis. As he told reporters earlier this week, he wanted to emphasize his ability to be dangerous in space.

"One of the biggest things is being effective on third down," Taylor said. "A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is. Coach [Paul] Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability."

Mission accomplished. Well, except for a minor footwear issue.

Now, does this outing, fantastic as it was, guarantee that Taylor will be the first running back drafted and/or a first-round pick? No. Swift and Edwards-Helaire didn't stink up the joint. The former peeled off a 4.48 40 of his own, and the latter showed off his agility and footwork. Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins didn't participate in drills because of a bad ankle, but he's coming off his own 2,000-yard campaign.

There are also real concerns in the eyes of some about Taylor's workload in college, ball-security issues and pass-catching chops.

But here's the thing. Yes, Taylor racked up a ton of carries at UW. But it hasn't seemed to adversely affect him. And Elliott piled up the touches at Ohio State. Last I looked, the Dallas Cowboys have been pretty pleased with him—enough to sign him to a record-breaking deal.

In regard to the fumbling issues, Taylor would hardly be the first rookie running back to enter the NFL with that problem. It can be coached up. So can receiving skills to a significant extent. Plus, if what we saw from Taylor on Friday is any indication, the fact that he didn't typically catch the ball out of the backfield in college doesn't mean he can't.

Not to keep beating the Elliott drum, but in 2015, he caught a whopping 27 passes for the Buckeyes. Over his last two years as a pro, Elliott has piled up 131 receptions.

There's an old saying that gets thrown around a lot this time of year: "You can't teach speed."

The impressive physical abilities that Taylor showed off Friday helped make him one of the most dominant ball-carriers of all time at the collegiate level. With those kinds of wheels at his size, he could also be a force in the National Football League.

The pecking order at running back on a lot of big boards is likely going to be adjusted in the days and weeks to come.