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Colts running back Jonathan Taylor’s intangibles could lead to big rookie season

NFL Combine - Day 4 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

A lot of different personalities enter professional sports. Some players come in announcing that they’re the best and use confidence or swagger to convey to their new team or coaches that they’re ready to take the field. Other players are more reserved and do their proving in practice reps or during film study — while others are just “happy to be here.” Still others show early on that they’re comfortable taking a leadership role and use their locker room presence to stick on the regular season roster and wait for their opportunity.

Jonathan Taylor is a collection of all of those attributes. He is well-spoken, comfortable speaking with media, acknowledges his weaknesses and stresses the importance of continuing to improve his strengths. He shows respect for those who came before him and for what the organization and his coaches are trying to do, doesn’t come into the NFL expecting to be handed anything, and is eager to learn.

In a Zoom interview on Tuesday, Taylor discussed how the Colts have a deep backfield and a lot of experience he can learn from. He discussed how he wouldn’t come in as the primary back getting over 20 carrier per games like he has since early in high school. Taylor acknowledged that things will be different and shared his approach.

I think it’s another level of focus here. I mean, you think about in college, you’re already focused, especially when you’re in your second, third year of college you’re kind of ready, you know what to expect. I mean, it’s even another level of focus at this level. I can just already tell — you don’t count the reps, you make the reps count. So whenever you’re in, you’re on. Make sure you’re 100 percent.

Of course, having this approach and maturity isn’t a big surprise if you know a bit more about Taylor. He is a bright young man who could have attended some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. When asked about making the decision to go to Wisconsin when he was also accepted to Harvard and Yale, Taylor said:

It was nice. I enjoyed myself every time I went up there. That was tough. It was a tough decision to decide between Ivy League and the University of Wisconsin. That was a tough choice.

A focused worker who is incredibly bright in the classroom. Sounds like a good foundation.

On film, Taylor is a dangerous north-south runner with the speed to break off a long touchdown run. He is explosive out of his cuts and displays very little wasted motion when he decides to get downfield. His acceleration through the hole will make defenders pay dearly if they’re not in their gaps.

Numerous NFL scouts and talent evaluators thought Taylor was the top running back in the draft class.

The knocks on Taylor coming into the NFL include his lateral agility, bouts of impatience, and ball security. Coming into college, there were questions about his long speed. Those questions are gone, as he a 4.39 second 40-yard dash as a 5’10”, 226 lbs.

Taylor is wasting no time taking advantage of legendary running back coach Tom Rathman, who is a huge stickler on ball security. Taylor expressed that he was grateful to be in this situation and with a coach who has such experience and who will help him improve an area of weakness in his college game.

Just in his knowledge of the game and of him coaching me up, I’m real excited – just about putting in the work as well. I mean especially now through these Zoom meetings there is nothing you can really do besides you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to record. You’ve got to show him film. I think that is the biggest thing because I’m not there to get those physical reps so I want him to coach me up. I want those coaching points. So I’m doing everything in my power to get those coaching points anyway I can without physically being there in his presence.

There is a chance that all of these attributes, the intelligence, willingness to work, desire to make the most of his chances and to not focus on how many of them come in each game, and devastating on field talent could lead to something pretty special in 2020. One thing is certain, members of the media who had their first chance to speak with him at length came away impressed.

When you Taylor to a backfield that already has Marlon Mack — who served as a bell cow in 2019 and was one of the NFL’s most productive running backs for the back half of the season — Nyheim Hines — who will be playing with a quarterback who helped Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead and Austin Ekeler become household names — and Jordan Wilkins — who has been incredibly productive in limited opportunities — you start to see something very dangerous forming in Indianapolis.

You can bet one guy has a Grinch-like grin on his face looking at the running back room — Quenton Nelson. He made his opinion know early on and isn’t afraid to say. The Colts should run the damn ball.