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Arizona Wildcats tailback J.J. Taylor draws 'Quiz' comp, fifth-round projection from Pro Football Focus
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Arizona Wildcats tailback J.J. Taylor draws 'Quiz' comp, fifth-round projection from Pro Football Focus

Arizona running back J.J. Taylor (left) has a low center of gravity that makes him hard to tackle in the open field.

Despite boasting some of the most prolific offenses in the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats haven’t had an offensive player selected in the NFL draft since 2014.

The last Cat to be so honored? All-America running back Ka’Deem Carey, who went in the fourth round to the Chicago Bears in 2014.

Another tailback is the best bet to buck that trend.

Pro Football Focus projects J.J. Taylor as a fifth-round pick in the latest version of its “2020 NFL Draft Guide.”

The guide, which is available via subscription and features 200 prospect profiles, offers an extensive breakdown of Taylor’s game, mostly from an analytical standpoint. Here are some of the highlights:

  • PFF says Taylor averaged 3.30 yards after contact per attempt in 2019. Per the site, that figure ranked outside the top 50 among qualified backs. For anyone who watched Taylor regularly break tackles or make something out of nothing, that stat comes as a surprise. To put that number in some perspective, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor averaged 4.24 yards after contact per attempt for his career, per PFF.
  • Although his rushing yards and yards per attempt were down from the previous two seasons, PFF gave J.J. Taylor his highest overall grade in 2019. He had a career-high 32 receptions for 289 yards. PFF credited Taylor with 63 receptions on 80 targets for his career, which equates to a completion rate of 78.8%.
  • PFF’s Mike Renner compares Taylor to Jacquizz Rodgers, the similarly built Oregon State product who had an eight-year NFL career (2011-18) with Atlanta, Chicago and Tampa Bay. Rodgers, listed at 5-6, was a fifth-round pick in the ’11 draft.
  • Writes Renner: “While Taylor was the featured back the past couple seasons at Arizona, that's not realistically going to be his role in the NFL. It's nice that he's capable of punching it between the tackles in a pinch, but Taylor's value is going to be in the passing game. He's a natural receiver who – despite size limitations – will be a nightmare for linebackers to cover or tackle one on one. His low center of gravity allows him to stop, start and cut on a dime. Swing screens and angle routes were his bread and butter at Arizona, and that figures to be no different in the NFL.”
  • To that end, Taylor ranked 31st nationally among running backs in yards per route run (1.59) in 2019.
  • Three of Renner’s “pros” on Taylor: 1. Plays like no one told him he's 5-5, 185 pounds. Wants to truck-stick you. 2. Light feet. Like a ballerina with his jump cuts. 3. No hesitation running between the tackles.
  • Three of Renner’s “cons” on Taylor: 1. Not much of a big-play threat in his career. Only three carries of 20-plus yards all season. 2. Zero catch radius. Swing screens/angle routes is about all you can hope for. 3. Truck-sticks are fun in college, but not realistically winning with power in NFL.
  • PFF breaks down Taylor’s rushing success in every blocking gap. He gained the most yards (126) between the left tackle and left guard, his fewest (51) between the right guard and right tackle. Taylor posted his highest average per carry outside the right tackle (8.4), his lowest outside the left tackle (3.5).
  • PFF also breaks down each prospect’s performance at the NFL scouting combine. Per PFF, Taylor’s 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash of 1.54 seconds ranked in the 90th percentile; his time of 4.15 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle ranked in the 83rd percentile; and his time of 7.00 seconds in the three-cone drill ranked in the 69th percentile.
  • Renner’s “bottom line” on Taylor: “Call him a gimmick or gadget player if you want, but space players like Taylor can be difference-makers in the NFL.”

Three Wildcats have a realistic chance of being drafted: Taylor, quarterback Khalil Tate and cornerback Jace Whittaker. The draft is scheduled for April 23-25, although those dates are subject to change because of the coronavirus pandemic. The draft was supposed to have emanated from Las Vegas, but those plans have been scuttled.

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 

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