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Arizona football: How JJ Taylor can be utilized as a true freshman

JJ Taylor is fast

Student Sports

A few weeks ago, I took a closer look at the running back depth for the Arizona Wildcats. More importantly, it was a look at the depth should Nick Wilson fall to injuries in his third season.

A guy who should find his way into the mix should be JJ Taylor. Sure, his 5-foot-5, 165 pound frame might be concerning, and he has a ways to go to learn the playbook, but he is definitely in the running for some touches in 2016.

It’s hard to have any sort of projection on the running back depth chart because there are a few guys who could work their way into the rotation, but JJ Taylor is a guy who could work his way in as a true freshman. You know, like Nick Wilson and Orlando Bradford did without being slapped with a redshirt label.

Taylor’s versatility will allow him to see the field early. He’s a short back, but he’s strong and can hold his own, so his playing time shouldn’t be contingent on how much weight he puts on this summer.

Rich Rodriguez hasn’t been opposed to moving his slot receivers to the backfield either. Taylor is an electrifying playmaker and can be used all over the offense, much like a lot of the pieces Rodriguez has at his disposal. But there’s a lot of depth at the slot receiver position with guys like Samajie Grant, Nate Phillips, Tyrell Johnson and Shun Brown in the mix, which would limit the touches and play count for Taylor.

Given his frame and his speed, it’s also hard to imagine Taylor being an every down back. Over the course of his four-year career at Arizona, I see Taylor as a change-of-pace back that can throw the speed of the defense off. It’s similar to the effect of having Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall sub in and out of a game. The defense gets so used to the speed of Solomon that Randall just feels like an entirely new level of speed.

Having him in a third-and-ten situation might be most ideal, especially if he's on a passing assignment to release out of the backfield, which leads to an area where he can excel in Arizona's offense.

He might not get a whole lot of carries out of the backfield, but I think his value will show when he swings out of the backfield and into the flats.

There are two plays that come to mind when I think of JJ Taylor. One is a read-option where Solomon would follow the running back into the flats, with the option to either cut upfield and run, dump it to the running back or tight end, or find a receiver floating just behind the linebackers.

The other play is just a simple swing pass out of the backfield. JJ Taylor is a guy who’s going to be able to slip between the tackles, but he’ll be much better in open space where he can accelerate and put a move on a defender. Allowing him to swing out into the flats is where he can operate best.

Thinking about the backfield in the future, you’ll have Orlando Bradford, JJ Taylor and Nathan Tilford. Taylor is the wild card that can do some serious damage. His size and speed will cause problems wherever he lines up, especially if he’s used in the slot in an empty backfield set.

In that situation, you’re going to need a strong fifth corner on the depth chart or a freak athlete at linebacker/safety to stop him.