INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor’s size, speed, and quick feet were traits that jumped out at Indianapolis Colts director of pro personnel Kevin Rogers during the scouting process.
Selected 41st overall in April’s NFL draft, the Colts traded up three spots in the second round to pick the Badgers running back, who has a powerful 5-10 and 226-pound physique with 4.32-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
Taylor also translated well to the Colts’ zone blocking schemes, which the back enjoyed running behind at Wisconsin.
Rogers, in a Zoom video conference call after the draft, offered a simple assessment of how the Colts should set up plays for the rookie.
“We do a lot of outside zone (blocking), inside zone with cut-backs, and I think he’s outstanding in that. I think it’s where he’s most comfortable,” Rogers said. “And the fact that he’s a bell cow, and I think we’re really just scratching the surface with the pass-catching stuff, he’s going to be a seamless fit with us in adding him to the guys we have.
“You don’t want to put too many guys in front of him. Give him some space, let him pick and slide and set up blockers, let him unleash that 4.32 speed.”
The two concerns posed to Rogers pertained to how much Taylor was used in college, where he had 926 carries for 6,127 rushing yards, as well as having 18 fumbles, 15 of them lost, in three seasons.
Rogers echoed the assessment of Colts running backs coach Tom Rathman in saying that the fumbles can be cleaned up with better technique. And he said the team isn’t concerned about Taylor being over-worked because of his ability to avoid taking nasty hits.
“When (Colts GM) Bill Polian was here, he used to always say, ‘The great backs, they get tackled, they don’t get hit,’” Rogers said. “I think that’s the case with him. You very rarely see him take a hit just because he’s so nifty, he can avoid contact as he’s going down.
“And then I would say, coupled with that, the fact that he’s a genetic freak, he’s got outstanding lean mass. He’s a professional. The one story that I can tell you, as a college kid, these guys get back from their road games and the first thing they’re thinking is which bar they’re going to, which house party they’re going to. Jonathan would go back and get in the tub and take care of his body because he knew it was going to pay off instantly on Monday when they go back to practice. For a guy that’s had as many touches as he has, I think he’s in as good a shape as you could possibly ask.”
Taylor’s 6,217 rushing yards ranks fourth on the all-time NCAA FBS list. He became the third repeat winner of the Doak Walker Award, bestowed upon college football’s top running back.
The Colts plan to use Taylor with 2019 leading rusher Marlon Mack in sharing the backfield carries. Head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni have referred to it as having a "one-one" punch.
Rogers suggested there’s more to the rookie's game than just rushing. Taylor had the chance to be more of a pass-catcher in his final college season with 26 receptions for 252 yards and five TDs. He had caught just 16 passes for 155 yards in the two previous seasons.
“I probably dinged him on that a little bit more than I should have initially,” Rogers said. “Really the third-down stuff with him and the lack of catches, that was just when they were resting him. The guy was a bell cow for three years.
“As the process went on, you saw him at the (NFL Scouting) Combine, catch the ball, run routes. Then you saw him at his Pro Day, before the Coronavirus stuff went into effect they were able to get the Pro Day in, and his Pro Day, running routes and catching the football was outstanding. I don’t think that’s going to be a question at all, moving forward.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is email@example.com.)