Back in May, I won an Ebay auction for an autographed rookie card of the New England Patriots undrafted free agent J.J. Taylor. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes. I didn’t think that Taylor was the diamond in the rough, I just happened to come across the auction, I bid, and I won with the only bid. After his NFL debut on Sunday, I checked Ebay for fun, and the same card was purchased for three times the price I paid in May. I’m not saying that the Patriots have the next Barry Sanders on their roster, but Taylor was impressive in his limited opportunities, and further helps me make the case that GM Bill Belichick does actually have an eye for talent.
Taylor became a bit of a story after he ran the ball four times for 28 yards, averaging 7 yards per carry. It wasn’t like he a dominant 150 yard day, but his 28 rushing yards and one catch opened up some eyes, and has left people like me wondering if the Patriots have maybe found Rex Burkhead’s future replacement.
When you’re listed as 5’6, 185 LBS power back, it’s going to make people very skeptical. After the Dolphins game, there should be no skeptics left. Taylor proved that he can run in the NFL. If you are one of these people desperately trying to find the negative in everything, just stop it, take it for what it is. The kid got a little playing time and took advantage of his opportunity.
Belichick, who seems to be very friendly this year and very complimentary of his players, praised J.J. when he was asked about him at his video press conference on Tuesday:
“Yeah, I thought J.J. ran competitively. He’s a tough kid that’s got good run skills, which we saw at Arizona and to some extent in training camp, as well. I thought he ran hard.”
“He’s out there every day, he works hard. He’s one of the hardest-working rookies, one of the hardest-working kids on the team, and I think that’s shown up in the improvement and the performance that he’s been able to have through the course of training camp and now into the start of the regular season.”
Belichick was using all of the Patriots buzz words: “hard work”, “competitive”. Even still, to call him the hardest working rookie is quite the compliment, and something I hope that Taylor never loses.
As we’ve seen time in and time out, hard work can at times go further than talent. The Cleveland Browns are the perfect example of a star studded lineup who can’t get it together, with star running back Nick Chubb even admitting that the Browns entered the 2019 season believing they had so much talent they didn’t even have to put the work in. We were all witness to how that played out for them.
Belichick and the Patriots have always had a different philosophy, and that’s why sixth rounders and UDFA's like Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, JC Jackson, and David Andrews have all been successful in New England. When work ethic is the highest bar to achieve, it’s going to bring the best out in people. Perhaps it’s J.J. Taylor's work that has brought the best out in him.
There are still a lot of questions to ask: what happens to Taylor when Damien Harris returns? The Patriots seemed to be high on the second year running back before having to place him on the three week IR with a hand injury. When he returns, whose spot does he take, or will Belichick go with an even bigger running back rotation? We won’t know for a while, but J.J. Taylor now has the opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks tonight and the Las Vegas Raiders next week, to prove that he deserves to stay in the lineup.
It appears that Taylor has earned his opportunity, now he needs to earn his spot.