The 2017 college football season might go down as the year of the running back.
In ESPN’s most recent “Heisman Watch” poll, three of the top four players are running backs. They are Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Stanford’s Bryce Love and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams. But let your eyes wander down to the number six spot, and you’ll see a name many casual football fans are unfamiliar with: Wisconsin true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor has helped the Badgers sprint to an undefeated by rushing for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games. Not bad for a three-star recruit who earned offers from just a handful of Power 5 programs. Don’t ask us why Taylor didn’t garner more attention. The dude is a legitimate size/speed freak who also had spectacular production in high school.
As a senior at Salem High School (Salem, New Jersey), Taylor set a New Jersey state record with 2,815 rushing yards. He also won two state titles in the 100-meter dash, once clocking a blazing 10.49.
For comparison, Stanford WR Isaiah Brandt-Sims—whom NFL.com named as the third-fastest player in college football before the season—has a college PR of 10.53 in the 100-meter dash. Taylor, at 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, is 31 pounds heavier than Brandt-Sims. Taylor also did a 315-pound Power Clean as a high school senior, a number that has likely increased since he arrived at UW.
Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman hit on Taylor’s phenomenal start in a recent piece. From Feldman:
“The kid is so mature sometimes you want to check his birth certificate to check to see if he’s not really 25,” says Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle, a former NFL running back who has coached on four pro staffs and worked with backs ranging from Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams to Willis McGahee. When Taylor does bag drills, his position coach can’t even hear the 5′ 11″, 215-pounder’s feet touch the ground. “I’ve never seen a back like that,” Settle says.
Taylor is just the sixth freshman in FBS history to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his first seven games. Other names on that list include Adrian Peterson, Marshall Faulk and Emmitt Smith. Wisconsin’s remaining schedule isn’t all that intimidating, so keep an eye on Taylor as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate.