Let’s go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: Jonathan Taylor is really good at football. After leading the B1G in rushing each of the last two seasons — and all of college football last year — he’s a preseason All-American selection, a strong Heisman Trophy candidate and an early favorite to win the B1G Offensive Player of the Year award.
Taylor isn’t just a good running back, he’s arguably the best in college football right now. He possesses the potential to go down as one of the all-time greats.
A year ago, Taylor rushed for an FBS-best 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns on 307 carries. He was the B1G’s most productive ball carrier by nearly 1,000 yards (Miles Sanders finished with 1,274). Taylor was the only FBS back to hit the 2,000-yard milestone. Those achievements are enough to secure Taylor’s legacy in Wisconsin history.
It’s the ridiculous career totals he could hit this season that would put Taylor in the conversation among the best college football has ever seen.
Taylor has been a sparkplug for Wisconsin since his first game as a freshman in the 2017 opener against Utah State. Two years later, he’s accumulated more than 4,000 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns. He’s also maintained a near 7.0 yards per carry average with over 600 total touches.
In two years (27 games), here’s some of the numbers Taylor has posted:
|J. Taylor||2-year totals||2-year averages|
|Yards per carry||6.88||6.88|
Out of those 27 games, Taylor has hit 100 yards 23 times, reaching the 200-yard mark in eight contests. His career-high came against Purdue this year, rushing for 321 yards on 33 carries.
Even if Taylor maintains his average in each statistical category, he’s in store to make a serious climb in the all-time rushing record books in 2019.
Taylor’s yardage total is on pace to not only surpass the all-time record set by former Wisconsin great Ron Dayne (7,125), but obliterate the mark by more than 1,000 yards. That is, of course, if Taylor opts to play all four years in Madison. there’s a good chance that won’t happen.
So, let’s say Taylor hits his career average again in 2019 (numbers listed above). What kind of mark would he leave on the college football world? In three years, he’d be the B1G’s second-leading rusher all-time and sit fifth nationally. He’d be les than 900 yards from eclipsing Dayne’s once-insurmountable total.
|J. Taylor||3-year projection||B1G rank||National rank|
|Yards per carry||6.88||5th||25th|
Entering this season, Taylor also has a chance to hit back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. Not even the “Great Dayne” was able to churn out consecutive 2,000-yard campaigns.
The touchdown category is the only spot Taylor’s three-year projections don’t have him inside the top 50 all-time. That’s really impressive, even for a Wisconsin back.
Wisconsin is known for producing some of the sport’s best running backs on an annual basis, so the fact that a Badger is on pace to shatter an all-time record is fitting. But think about this: of all the great backs the program has produced — James White, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon III and John Clay — Taylor could reach totals in three years that it took his predecessors four seasons to hit.
Obviously, most of those guys waited a season or two before earning the starting job. It isn’t exactly a direct comparison, but you can’t knock Taylor for winning the job early in his career.
Taylor may run into some hurdles this season that hinders his productivity a bit. The Badgers are going through serious turnover on the offensive line and are ushering in a new starting quarterback. There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve up front and under center that Taylor has yet to experience.
Competition in the B1G West is tightening up and Wisconsin’s crossover schedule this year is brutal. The Badgers will see all of the B1G’s top four run defenses — Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern. It isn’t going to be an easy grind for Wisconsin’s run game in 2019.
With those challenges, there’s a chance that Taylor’s junior campaign isn’t quite as productive as his first two seasons. Even then, his ceiling is incredibly high.
Developing high-production running backs isn’t exactly new territory for Wisconsin. It’s been a theme even as the program has transitioned from Barry Alvarez to Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen to Paul Chryst. Running the football has always been the forte for the Badgers. Some of college football’s top ball carriers surfaced from Madison.
Taylor has an opportunity to do something special, though. Even if he doesn’t stick around for all four years, the totals he can reach in three seasons are incredibly impressive.
It only took Taylor two years to secure a legacy in Madison. It may only take one more to lock down his status as a college football legend.