Discussion of size is often very contentious (get your laughter out now), especially in the world of the NFL. In a league filled with larger-than-life figures like 6’8” Calais Campbell and 380 lb Trent Brown, J.J. Taylor finds himself at the bottom of the charts. The day Taylor signed his contract he became the smallest player in the league. This doesn't necessarily hinder him in any specific way, though. Many small players, especially running backs, have carved out roles for themselves in the league.
5’6” Darren Sproles is a three-time Pro Bowler and fifth all-time in all-purpose yards. 5’7” Maurice Jones-Drew made three Pro Bowls and led the league in rushing in 2011. 5’8” Barry Sanders is considered by some as the greatest running back in NFL history and is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. The shortest of the bunch, the 5’5” Taylor has a lot to prove if he wants to make the roster, let alone make a mark on the league like those other guys.
Before we get into more about Taylor, though, please check out the other UDFA profiles below:
- Myles Bryant, CB, Washington
- Rashod Berry, TE/DE, Ohio State
- De’Jon “Scoota” Harris, LB, Arkansas
- Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State
- Bill Murray, DT, William and Mary
- Nick Coe, DE, Auburn
- Kyahva Tezino, LB, SDSU
- Jake Burt, TE, Boston College
- Sean Riley, WR, Syracuse
- Will Hastings, WR, Auburn
J.J. Taylor was already an accomplished football player when he enrolled at Arizona in 2016. Taylor was named Mr. Football — California after rushing for 2,290 yards and 44 (FORTY-FOUR!!!) touchdowns as a high school senior. He looked to be an impact player as a true freshman but broke his ankle in Week 4, which allowed him to redshirt the remainder of the season. As a redshirt freshman he picked up where he left off and was named Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year.
2018 was when he broke out. Taylor was named third-team AP All-American as an all-purpose player and first-team All-Pac-12 at running back. He totaled 2,107 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. His play fell off a bit this past season, however, when he totaled 1,458 yards and five touchdowns.
I dove into what makes Taylor so special on my Twitter page:
A common trope for short running backs is “lightning in a bottle” but I don’t know what else to call this. Great block by the backside receiver helps him break loose but he kept the play alive. Also stay to the end of the clip it’s worth it. pic.twitter.com/KXqotNV9M1— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) July 20, 2020
He wasn’t very nice to his new Patriot teammate Myles Bryant (#5) in their time in the PAC-12. Here are a couple of nice plays for Taylor. pic.twitter.com/EDmS61hNfg— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) July 20, 2020
Now that you’ve fallen in love with him, how can he make the New England Patriots’ roster?
Well, it’s going to be tough. The Patriots have Sony Michel, James White, and Damien Harris pretty much locked in. Rex Burkhead just took a pay cut which pretty much solidified his spot on the roster as well, and Bolden is one of the team’s top special teamers. Taylor should see plenty of reps in camp but if there are no preseason games it is going to be nearly impossible to crack the 53-man squad. He holds some value as a returner, but so do 10 other guys on the roster.
I think at his best Taylor can play a Dion Lewis-type role; I just don’t know if that role still exists in the Patriots offense. They will almost certainly run the ball more this season and have two between-the-tackles runners in Michel and Harris as well as a couple change-of-pace backs in White and Burkhead. Taylor will have to show he has something the other backs don’t in this extremely shortened training camp.
Like most other skill position players, his playmaking ability will have to be on full display to make this team.