INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Rogers, the Colts' director of pro personnel, as well as general manager Chris Ballard discuss what they saw in running back Jonathan Taylor, the Colts' second-round (41st-overall) pick in this year's NFL Draft (excerpts from interviews done with local media members, as well as with Colts.com):
Which one of Taylor's traits translates best for him in the NFL, and what are your thoughts with the fumbles earlier in his college career?
Rogers: "You know, I think obviously the size and speed and feet. I mean, the guy rushed for 2,000 yards three straight years in the Big Ten I mean, I think it's pretty easily to translate all those skills to the NFL level. And a lot of the fumbling, a lot of it's just effort. Most of it's very correctable. Our running backs coach, Tom Rathman, if there's one guy that can clean up the fumbling issues, it's him. He harps on it every day. It's No. 1 for him."
Taylor only really started catching passes at a higher volume his final season at Wisconsin. What can you tell us about his pass-catching and his abilities in pass protection?
Rogers: "I probably dinged him on that a little bit more than I should have initially, but really the third down stuff with him and the lack of catches was just, I mean, that was just when they were resting him. I mean, the guy was a bell cow for three years. And then I think as the process went on, you saw him at the Combine, catch the ball, run routes, then you saw him at his pro day before the coronavirus stuff went into effect. They were able to get the pro day in, and his pro day running routes and catching the football was outstanding. So I don't think that's going to be a question at all with him moving forward."
You mentioned Taylor being a bell cow. With all those carries he had in college, did that come up in your guys' discussions? Is that a worry that he's got some tread on those tires?
Rogers: "When Bill Polian was here, he used to always say, 'The great backs, they get tackled. They don't get hit.' And I think that's the case with him. You very rarely see him take a hit just because he's so nifty. He can avoid contact as he's going down. And then I would say coupled with that, the fact that he's a genetic freak, he's got outstanding lean mass. He's a professional. The one story that I can tell you, as a college kid, these guys get back from their road games, and the first thing they're thinking is which bar they're going to, which house party they're going to. Jonathan would go back and get in the tub and take care of his body because he knew it was going to pay off instantly on Monday when they go back to practice. So for a guy that's had as many touches as he has, I think he's in as good of shape as you could possibly ask."
What about Taylor, specifically, really sorts what the Colts do in terms of their offensive system?
Rogers: "I think we're a little bit more of a zone-heavy team. We do a lot outside zone, inside zone with cutbacks, and I think he's outstanding in that. I think that's where he's most comfortable. And then the fact that he's a bell cow, and I think that you're really just scratching the surface with the pass-catching stuff. I think he's going to be a seamless fit with us and adding him to the guys we have."
He did tell us that he did a lot more zone this past season than before, and he really embraced it. Does that just fit with his skillset?
Rogers: "Absolutely. Absolutely. To me, he's the athlete … you don't want to put too many guys in front of him. Give him some space, let him pick and slide and set up blockers and let him unleash that 4.32 speed."
A lot of star college running backs, they get to the professional level and they're the guy right away. But Taylor is going to have to share the load with Marlon Mack. How do you think he'll handle that?
Rogers: "Yeah, I mean, the type of guys that we add, and Jonathan is one of them, he's not going to have any problem coming in here. I mean, Marlon had a great year last year, rushed for 1,000 yards. He knows the type of guy that he's joining up with. I think it's going to be a great situation in that room no matter what happens."
Were you expecting Taylor to be there at that point of the second round? And Ballard had told his Jim Irsay was all about going up and getting him. Were you similarly excited about the possibility?
Rogers: "Absolutely. We wanted to add some explosiveness to our offense, and I mean, nobody fit that bill better than him. We know those three backs. The LSU kid went off. We knew the Georgia kid was going to go off. And we knew our guy was going to go off. So we were holding our breath, and we were fortunate to get up and get him when we did."
So those three guys you saw as the cream of the crop in this class at running back?
Rogers: "Yeah. I mean, I don't think there's a doubt. There's no doubt we got our guy."
Describe the conversations that were had to move up and get Taylor in that spot?
Rogers: "I mean, a big key for what we wanted to accomplish in the draft was to get some more explosiveness in the offense. And with Pittman, and then with Jonathan, we felt we added two, No. 1, explosive guys, and then guys that are A-plus character. So I mean, they were no-brainers. And we were nervous that Jonathan was going to go (and knew) there was a handful of teams ahead of us that needed a running back. So giving up the pick to go get him was a no-brainer."
What did you learn about Taylor off the field, beyond the prolific college football career?
Rogers: "That there's more to him than just football. I mean, he has a lot of interests. He's a real smart kid, almost an Ivy League kid. And then every person I talked to on campus there, they couldn't have been more glowing about the kid, the leader, the work ethic, the way he takes care of his body. I mean, from soup to nuts, everything was off the charts with him."
The Colts picked Michael Pittman Jr. at 34th overall, but quickly had to turn their attention to Taylor and where he might fall. How did that process play out?
Ballard: "It's funny, because we were really excited about getting (Pittman Jr.). He's a guy that we had ranked high on our board, but we had 44 right after, so the turn was quick. And we knew there was two or three players that we kind of targeted, and as soon as we made the pick, we were on to, 'OK, let's track 35, 36, 37, 38. What are they doing? What do we need to do with 44, and is there a player, which led us to Taylor, that we think is exceptional that we need to attack and go get?' And that's essentially what we did."
Did you ever consider moving back out of your second pick in the second round?
Ballard: "We had had a lot more calls on that pick, especially from teams in the bottom of the second round. They had all had players targeted that they wanted to come get, but once we saw Taylor falling, we thought it was just too good to be true. So we decided to give up the fifth and move up with Cleveland, and I told the group during the time, 'We'll get that fifth back,' which we essentially did in the third round. We ended up trading back 10 spots in the third and actually getting a higher fifth and adding a sixth-round pick."