With the NFL draft rapidly approaching, teams, scouts and journalists alike are all searching to uncover low-profile college players who have the potential to contribute at the next level. One of this year’s most underrated prospects is easy to miss due to his diminutive size. Arizona running back J.J. Taylor may only stand at just 5’5 but what he lacks in height, he certainly makes up for in quickness and agility.
Although Taylor is not viewed as possessing elite straight-line speed having posted an underwhelming 4.61 40-yard dash time at the combine, his immediate burst and versatility suggests he has what it takes to play in the NFL. Having finished in the top three amongst running backs in the three-cone drill and 20-yard-shuttle in Indianapolis, his performance should have at least made teams review some of his highlights during college.
During his four years as a Arizona Wildcat, he continuously displayed flashes of big-play ability and averaged over 5-yards per carry in all but his junior year (where he averaged 4.9 yards). After being named Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2017, he continued to impress during his sophomore season and earned First-team All-Pac-12 honours following his 1,434 rushing yards. Despite injuries holding him back during his final year, he still managed a respectable 721 yards on the ground and showcased his catching ability with 32 receptions for a further 289 yards.
There are undoubtedly teams who will find it hard to envision Taylor as a three-down starter but there should be a few organisations who view him as a complementary change of pace back or a third down specialist thanks to his catching ability. He should at the very least be able to contribute immediately to special teams as he has experience in fielding both punt and kick returns on a regular basis.
As a result of his skillset and pint-size figure, similarities have already been drawn to NFL running backs such as former Philadelphia Eagle Darren Sproles and Tarik Cohen of the Chicago Bears. Both of these players and their success within the league represent the best-case scenario for teams willing to gamble on Taylor but if he is not able to instantly hit his stride, Dion Lewis, recently acquired by the New York Giants, may be a more accurate comparison. As a fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2011, Lewis has bounced around the NFL with six different teams but has managed to carve out a role within each including a key role within the New England Patriots Super Bowl winning squad in 2017.
Despite his collegiate success and apparent NFL player comparisons, Taylor is still not a lock to be selected in the upcoming draft. While some scouts reportedly view him as a possible day 3 selection, others regard him as a priority undrafted free agent. Regardless of being a late round pick or going undrafted altogether, in the right offensive scheme that can successfully utilise his abilities, Taylor may very well end up being a name that comes back to haunt teams who were not willing to take a chance on him earlier in the draft process.