The redshirt rookie year has been something of a rite of passage for New England Patriots running backs.
Shane Vereen, James White, Damien Harris and now J.J. Taylor all have played limited snaps as rookies. Vereen, White and Harris became integral parts of the Patriots’ offense in their sophomore seasons. Taylor also could see his role blossom in Year 2.
Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears sounded very excited about Taylor’s potential Saturday in a video conference call. Fears believes Taylor can be an early-down runner and a pass-catcher in New England’s offense.
“Oh yeah. Yeah, he can do both,” Fears said. “You haven’t seen him in that role, but early on, the kid’s got great hands. He’s really, really quick and sudden. He can get in and out of breaks. I think he has a chance to be a combination-type player. A guy who you can use in multiple roles. You’ve just got to play to his strong suit and not put him in a situation where he can be taken advantage of.
“As a runner, the guy’s got great vision, he’s hard to see. He’s so small, they can’t find them. When he plants that foot and he accelerates north, wow. Man, I mean he’s like a blur. Like, where is he? He’s not big and everybody sees him. He’s sort of in between the rafters there. There’s a lot of things to like about this kid. There really is. And he’s a good kid, very good kid. We’ve just got to find a role for him. He’s got to create that role by what he does in practice.”
Taylor is listed on the Patriots’ roster at 5-foot-6, 185 pounds. He actually measured in closer to 5-foot-5 (5-foot-5 and 1/4-inch) at the NFL Scouting Combine, making him one of the shortest players in league history.
Taylor has 17 carries for 72 yards with one 4-yard catch in four games and 30 snaps this season. There is a path for Taylor to take on a bigger role next season if White or Rex Burkhead, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents, don’t return.
The undrafted rookie flashed versatility during his time at Arizona, catching 62 passes for 487 yards with two touchdowns while carrying the ball 587 times for 3,263 yards with 18 touchdowns in four seasons.
Danny Woodhead (5-foot-8) and Dion Lewis (5-foot-7) are examples of other undersized, versatile running backs who have shined as runners and pass-catchers in the Patriots’ offense. Fears referred to Taylor as “Little Dion” over the summer. Taylor could fit that mold with a little bit more development.