Leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, The Post is breaking down the draft class by position in an 11-part series. Tomorrow: wide receivers.
Let us get this out of the way rather quickly. Jonathan Taylor is not Saquon Barkley.
Taylor will not be the No. 2 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, as Barkley was in 2018. Taylor will not be described as “touched by the hand of God,’’ as Barkley was by Giants general manager Dave Gettleman. And Taylor at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine did not put on such a breathtaking display that he was featured on the back page of The Post, as Barkley was two years ago, when he was dubbed “SuperQuon’’ and shown with an “S’” across his chest and a red Superman cape flowing in the wind.
Not being Saquon Barkley is no big deal, especially when it comes to running backs readying themselves for the draft and embarking on an NFL career. Taylor, raised in Salem, N.J., did so many wondrous things for the Wisconsin Badgers and was so impressive at his job interviews on and off the field last month in Indianapolis that he likely will be the first running back off the board, a prototype big, powerful and fast back. Not Barkley, but in the Barkley mold.
Taylor in three years in Madison did more than Barkley did in his three years in State College at Penn State. Taylor in 41 games rushed for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns. Barkley in 38 games rushed for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns. Barkley was the much more prolific pass-catcher, with 102 receptions (compared with Taylor’s 42).
Taylor’s three years were uncommonly sensational. He set college football records for most rushing yards after his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. Taylor broke Herschel Walker’s record (5,596 yards) for most rushing yards in the first three years of a college career. Taylor finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting three consecutive years. Taylor owns the record with 12 200-yard rushing games.
Barry Sanders in his first two years at Oklahoma State totaled only 928 yards before erupting for 2,628 yards as a junior. Taylor had 4,171 rushing yards in his first two college seasons.
“Anytime you’re mentioned with those guys, it’s a blessing,’’ Taylor said. “I think the biggest thing is you didn’t do it alone. I had great teammates, great leaders around me to push me to the limit, to push me to that moment. So, I think the biggest thing is just realizing and understanding that I didn’t do it alone.’’
Like Barkley, Taylor is humble and team-oriented, but also confident in his ability and his place in the running back hierarchy. Barkley was considered the best player in the 2018 draft. Taylor is not regarded that highly, but he does believe he should hear his name first off the board at his position.
“Really, I think it’s my consistency,’’ Taylor said. “I mean, if you look at the next level, what separates the great backs from the elite backs is really them playing on an elite level day in and day out every Sunday. I think that’s one of the biggest things that separates me is my ability to be consistent year in and year out.’’
Barkley at the combine two years ago put on a show, running 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, reaching 41 inches in the vertical jump, 4.24 in the 20-yard shuffle and bench pressing 225 pounds 29 times. Taylor this year actually ran faster than Barkley, clocking 4.39 in the 40 and matched Barkley at 4.24 in the 20-yard shuffle. Taylor could not come close to matching Barkley in the vertical jump (36) and bench press (17).
Considering Barkley weighed 233 pounds at the 2019 combine and Taylor was 226 pounds last month, the speed and agility both players displayed was staggering.
Taylor averaged 6.7 yards per carry in college, operating behind what annually is a road-grading Badgers offensive line. By contrast, Barkley averaged 5.7 yards per carry at Penn State. That Taylor was such a workhorse (a mind-blowing 926 rushing attempts in three years) compared to Barkley (671 carries in three years) is impressive, but that workload can be viewed as a negative for a 21-year-old entering the league.
Barkley’s unique ability to run routes and inhale the ball in the air in the passing game set him apart. The Badgers did not include Taylor in the passing game until his junior year.
One big difference: Barkley had four fumbles (three lost) in college. Taylor had 18 fumbles (15 lost).
Taylor should get taken late in the first round of the draft, maybe even earlier. Then, it’s onto conquering the NFL, following in the footsteps of Saquon Barkley.