Preseason statistics always have to be taken with a grain of salt given the circumstances: teams do only minimal scheming while giving their starter-level players limited playing time. As a result of this, preseason performance does not necessarily predict regular season success or failure.
That being said, there are still a few things that can be taken away from the games. When it comes to the New England Patriots, for example, it is that second-year running back J.J. Taylor is making a strong push for the 53-man roster.
Two weeks into their preseason slate, Taylor is leading the Patriots in total yards gained. The former rookie free agent has amassed 103 rushing yards, 49 receiving yards, 45 kickoff return yards and 34 punt return yards for a total of 231 yards. He also scored a touchdown and has made one of the best plays of the summer so far when he did this against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday:
the patience— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) August 20, 2021
the audacity pic.twitter.com/y8azwkfVIP
One highlight-reel play will not make somebody’s roster outlook, but it is exemplary for Taylor’s performance so far. The Patriots have trusted him with plenty of opportunities both on offense and in the kicking game.
Along the way, he has looked impressive whenever he was on the field — a statement running backs coach Ivan Fears agrees with.
“Doesn’t he? He really does,” the veteran coach said during a media conference call on Sunday. “He’s a guy that was a hell of a runner in college, and his strong suit is as a runner. He’s a hell of a runner, got great vision, great feet, balance. The kid is a tough kid for a little guy, but he plays big. He plays big, so you love the stuff like that, and he’s got to compete, and he’s doing a great job of competing. Only time will tell.”
Fears also acknowledged that the Patriots will have to make a decision on their running back group soon, with multiple players competing for playing time and, ultimately, spots on the roster. While Taylor appears to be on the bubble at the moment, Damien Harris, James White and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson are locks to make the club.
Former first-round pick Sony Michel also appears to be in that category after a strong outing throughout training camp and preseason. That leaves Taylor and special teams ace Brandon Bolden as the only two backs on the roster.
There is a chance that both end up on the team, which would give New England six running backs to use alongside fullback Jakob Johnson.
As far as Taylor is concerned, Fears pointed out that he is still in the process of becoming a complete back.
“He’s still trying to take advantage of the other aspects of the game, and that’s the big stumbling block for most of these guys. They’ve got to take advantage of the entire game. They’re not just in there to carry the ball,” he said.
“There’s other things that happen, and we’ve gotta step up to the plate on all the aspects of the game, all of it. From blocking to running to catching to route-running, there’s a s--tload; plus, they have to be smart enough to handle a change of pace at the line of scrimmage.”
So far, however, it appears as if Taylor is in a good position.