MADISON – Will Jonathan Taylor prove to be the best rookie running back in the National Football League?
The answer to that question won’t be known for some time, particularly if the 2020 NFL season is delayed because of the spread of coronavirus.
Yet we do know that Wisconsin’s two-time Doak Walker award winner was not the first tailback selected in the 2020 NFL draft.
Taylor, the first FBS player to rush for at least 6,000 yards in just three seasons, was the third tailback taken in the draft. Taylor was selected by Indianapolis on Friday with the ninth pick of the second round, the 41st pick overall.
"It’s nothing you can prepare for,” Taylor said during ABC’s coverage. “You try and think about how it’s going to feel but until it happens you don’t really know."
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Former UW teammate Zack Baun, a graduate of Brown Deer High School, was taken by New Orleans with the 10th pick of the third round, the 74th pick overall.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU was the first tailback selected, taken with the final pick of the first round by the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Edwards-Helaire averaged 6.6 yards per carry and finished with 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. He added 55 receptions for 453 yards, an average of 8.2 yards per reception, and one touchdown.
De’Andre Swift of Georgia was the second tailback taken. He went with the third pick in the second round, 35th overall, to the Detroit Lions.
Swift averaged 6.2 yards per carry last season and finished with 1,218 yards and seven touchdowns. He added 24 catches for 216 yards, an average of 9.0 yards per catch, and one touchdown.
“He can do it all,” analyst David Pollock, who was an All-American defensive end at Georgia, said during ABC’s coverage. “Super, super fast. He can get the tough yards. He can make people miss. And he can catch it out of the backfield."
Taylor averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season and accumulated 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns. He added 26 catches for 252 yards, an average of 9.7 yards per catch, and five touchdowns.
The Colts added veteran quarterback Philip Rivers through free agency after a 7-9 finish last season. Marlon Mack led the Colts in rushing last season with 1,091 yards, a 4.4-yard average, and eight touchdowns.
Taylor left UW with 6,174 rushing yards and 50 rushing touchdowns.
Analyst Kirk Herbstreit praised Taylor's ability and attitude during ABC's coverage.
"We can talk all you want about how he went over 2,000 yards (twice),” Herbstreit said. “I like to talk about him and his character, his humility. He wants to deflect everything.
"Talk about his linemen. Talk about the play-calling of is coaches. Talk about the fans. He doesn’t want to take any of the credit.
"(Indianapolis) got a great-three down back in Taylor. He can play first down, second down.
"And I really think he improved as a receiver this year to be able to be guy to beat those linebackers and get open and provide the quarterback a chance to make plays in the passing game as well."
Seeing Baun last until the 74th pick appeared to surprise Herbstreit and Pollock. Herbstreit noted Baun's time of 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"That's a blur for an offensive tackle to have to deal with," Herbstreit said.
Herbstreit noted that Baun's lack of bulk at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds could be a concern.
"Those big maulers," he said of NFL offensive linemen, "you wonder how he'll hold up."
Pollock countered, however.
"I think you can move him around," Pollock said. "He is quick and he's got that kind of skill set. He knows how to set up pass-rush moves."
After missing the 2017 season because of a foot injury, Baun answered questions about his durability by starting every game (27) in 2018 and ’19. He came on late in 2018 and last season blossomed into a consistent play-maker and finished with 12½ sacks and 19½ tackles for loss.
"A couple years ago you saw flashes," Pollock said. "And then this past year he started taking names and kicking people's butts."