Wisconsin Football: Jonathan Taylor Impresses Early on as Pass Catcher

Despite questions around Jonathan Taylor’s ability as a pass-catcher, early in his NFL career, he is making an impact in the passing game.

Entering the 2020 NFL Draft, there certainly wasn’t a more accomplished running back in that draft class than Wisconsin Football’s Jonathan Taylor. The two-time Doak Walker Award winner, which is given to the nation’s top running back, had totaled nearly 6,200 rushing yards and 55 total touchdowns in only three seasons as a Badger.

However, despite his ridiculous numbers, there were concerns among the draft community. Some of which included his durability after being used so heavily at Wisconsin, along with his ball security since he did put the ball on the ground 18 times in his college career, with only three of them being recovered by Wisconsin.

Another area of Taylor’s game that was heavily scrutinized was his experience, or lack thereof, as a pass-catcher. Through his first two seasons, Taylor had complied only 155 receiving yards on 16 receptions. However, knowing that in today’s NFL a running back has to be a capable pass-catcher, as he always does, Taylor went to work and began honing his receiving skills prior to the 2019 college season.

Taylor spent time with Badgers’ running backs’ Coach John Settle working on his pass blocking while also hitting the jugs machine and refining his route running that offseason. In 2019, Taylor was a much bigger factor in the passing game, hauling in 26 receptions for 252 yards with five touchdowns.

Yet, as I’ve already mentioned, Taylor’s ability as a pass-catcher among many in the draft community remained a question mark even with his success during that final year at Wisconsin. Most notably, his overall experience and limited route tree were what many focused on.

But with the Indianapolis Colts, in just five games, Taylor is already finding success as a pass-catcher. On 12 targets this season, Taylor has 12 receptions totaling 107 yards. Despite the smaller sample size, he still ranks 11th in total yards after the catch (YAC) among all running backs, and his 11.8 YAC per reception is the second-most in football.

Not to mention that Phillip Rivers has a passer rating of 103.8 when targeting him, and we’ve even seen Taylor take some snaps from the slot this year as well.

Former Badger and current Denver Bronco, Melvin Gordon, had a similar trajectory as Taylor. He was rarely used in the passing game during his first two seasons in Madison, but he would go on to total 19 receptions his final season and since then, he has been a factor in the NFL passing game with three straight 400 yard seasons at one point with Los Angeles.

While, no, as many draft analysts will point out, Taylor doesn’t have an extensive route tree, and for the first two years of his college career, he was largely unused in the passing game, with all of the time between the end of the college football season and the actual draft taking place, it’s not uncommon for both NFL teams and analysts to overthink a player. And I believe that’s what happened with Taylor.

Even in his limited opportunities at Wisconsin, Taylor had proven to be reliable as a pass-catcher, and that was on full display at the combine as well. Add in his 4.39 speed, the incredible burst that he possesses, and teams just need to find a way to get him the ball in space and let him do the rest. This is evidenced by his ability to rack up yards after the catch.

We are only a handful of games into Taylor’s NFL career, but the Colts have been a great fit for him, and he’s only going to continue to have more success in the passing game. Indy didn’t overthink this one. They drafted an incredibly accomplished and gifted player. Whether it’s as a runner or a pass-catcher, they’re putting the ball in his hands so Jonathan Taylor can do what Jonathan Taylor does best; make plays.