ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. on Wisconsin Jonathan Taylor, Quintez Cephus
In just a few weeks, a handful of Badgers could hear their namew called during the 2020 NFL Draft. That means more evaluation "SZN," and one heralded expert discussed two key contributors to the cardinal and white earlier this week.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. spoke with reporters -- just under a month away from the annual extravaganza that takes place on April 23-25 -- to answer their questions about various prospects and his evaluations.
AllBadgers.com received an opportunity to ask Kiper a question on what teams would be the best fits for linebacker Zack Baun and running back Jonathan Taylor.
We published the analyst's thoughts on the consensus All-Big Ten selection on Thursday evening. After he discussed Baun, he turned his attention to the two-time Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous consensus first-team All-American.
First, Kiper praised Taylor for his ability as a "a phenomenal runner."
"To run a 4.39(-second 40-yard dash) at 226 pounds (at the NFL Scouting Combine), as a running back when he’s securing the football -- and that’s the issue I’ll get to in a second -- but as a running back, he’s got vision," Kiper said. "He’s got burst, he shows balance in traffic. He can hit the home run. He can outrun, with that 4.39 speed, defensive backs to pay dirt. If this was 1985 when it was about a running game and a running back being a primary entity, he would be a top-15 pick despite the fumbling issues probably."
Kiper then went into detail about the back's history of coughing up the ball on the ground. He also discussed Taylor's pass catching skillset that he believes needs to continue to develop.
"But now with the fumbling issues, 18 fumbles, 15 lost, that’s a concern, a major concern. He’s got to clean that up," Kiper said. "Tiki Barber did when he was in the NFL. We hope that Jonathan can. He’s a great kid. He’s a hard worker. Technique can improve that, as we saw with Tiki. He did have that fumble, Taylor did, even in the Rose Bowl when he was stripped by (Oregon linebacker) Troy Dye.
“Another issue is a lack of tremendous pass receiving skills. Now he’s improved in that area. He didn’t drop any at the combine, but he did have a drop on a swing pass in the Oregon game in the Rose Bowl. He did some drops in college as well, so hands have to improve, and it seems like he’s working on that. So if he can become more complete as a receiver in addition to being a great runner, and the only way that you’re a great runner is if you have great ball security. Because if you’re fumbling a ball, you’re not going to be on the field so that ball security has got to be cleaned up. I think that’s the reason he will probably end up being a second-round pick not a first-round pick.”
Where Taylor could fit in terms of franchises, Kiper did not necessarily list any. However, he also believes the 6,000-plus yard back could be a huge pick up in the second round if the aforementioned concerns are addressed:
"Obviously finding teams that desperately need a running back is very difficult. Most teams are well fortified at that position, but in the second round when you need a No. 2 back or you need a guy who’s just a great runner who could be a top-15 caliber player if he can clean up the ball security and become a little bit better receiver. If he does that, you’re getting a top-15 guy in the second round. If he doesn’t, then he’s a bust. If you don’t clean up the fumbles, you don’t become a better receiver, you can’t run the ball and fumble it. So even though he’s a great runner, if he’s not securing the ball, that negates that.
"He’s got bust potential because of that, but he’s also got boom potential, bust or boom, because of the great runner he is, the improvement we’ve seen in terms of his receiving -- which has to continue to improve -- and he’s got to fix the ball security issues. If he does that, like I said, he could be a tremendous pick in the second round. You would look back and say, 'How did he drop to the second round with all that productivity?’
"Now with that productivity comes tread on the tires. He’s got a lot of carries, so the longevity for a running back who did so much in college, carried the ball so much, would be somewhat of an issue. Now to me it’s not because the first four, five years is what you’re looking at with running backs. Looking at Todd Gurley, he’s not even a Ram right now. He’s in Atlanta, so look what happens to these running backs. Their longevity is not great with one team anyway, so to me he’s a second-round pick. He has a chance to be a steal or could be a bust, but let’s be positive and hope that he’s a great pick in the second round for somebody."
AllBadgers.com also asked Kiper how Cephus' 40-yard dash time at Wisconsin's pro day on March 11 help his draft stock. The Badgers wide out ran an improved 4.56-second time earlier this month, compared to the official 4.73-second mark he hit while in Indianapolis about a month ago.
Kiper believes it did help "dramatically," and he also mentioned Cephus' 38.5" vertical jump during the NFL Scouting Combine and arm length.
"He had a productive year with 59 catches, averaged over 15 yards a catch with seven touchdowns," Kiper said. "(Ohio State cornerback) Jeff Okudah raves about Quintez Cephus, so it’s good to see a cornerback with the skillset of Okudah, who’s gone up against a lot of good receivers, talk so favorably of Cephus.
"Right now, I have a fourth-round grade on him. Going into the combine, that made it iffy. Wanted to wait until the pro (day), so I’m going to keep it as a fourth-round grade. Maybe he drops a little bit further down because of so many great receivers in this draft. There’s so many quality receivers in this draft potentially and so many No. 2 receivers, No. 3, No. 4. There are so many guys that are going to make teams. I have 37 guys at wide receiver with fifth-round grades or better, so your thought about Cephus right now as a fourth-round grade could drop a little bit and become a value pick because there’s so many really good receivers in this draft."