New England Patriots: It’s J.J. Taylor time! Is he ready for this opportunity?

J.J. Taylor #42 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
J.J. Taylor #42 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

For all those New England Patriots fans in the J.J. Taylor fan club, you’re getting what you want. The door to expanded playing time for the University of Arizona product is wide open now that James White is out for the season.

There’s certainly reason to get excited over a potential playing time increase for Taylor. He is the most explosive member of the Patriots backfield, both as a runner and a receiver. Taylor’s low center of gravity gives him impressive balance. And despite his lack of girth, he’s able to break tackles and power through some hits.

The question Taylor has to answer is whether he can take a beating and last through the season. Standing at 5’6 and 185 pounds, Taylor is one of the smallest players in the entire NFL. Between Taylor, Boston Scott of the Philadelphia Eagles (5’6, 203 pounds) and Tarik Cohen of the Chicago Bears (5’6 191 pounds), Taylor is the lightest.

We do know diminutive backs have lasted through full seasons. Scott and Cohen both have at least one 16-game season played under their belts. And former player Darren Sproles set the standard after a 14-year career playing with the Eagles, San Diego Chargers, and New Orleans Saints.

Taylor’s initial shot at generous playing time in 2020 was limited to just 50 offensive snaps due to illness and a quad injury. Hopefully two years in the Patriots strength and conditioning program has built Taylor for an expanded role. Now he has to earn the coaches’ confidence. Making big plays won’t matter much to the coaching staff if Taylor is a liability in blitz pickup.

If J.J. Taylor can’t protect Mac Jones, he will barely see the field for the New England Patriots

It’s a bit surprising that after White went down in the second quarter, the coaching staff opted to turn to Brandon Bolden rather than Taylor. Bolden led New England’s backfield with 33 snaps, compared to Damien Harris’ 22 and Taylor’s 10.

No one can blame the coaching staff for that decision. Opponents are coming after quarterback Mac Jones for two reasons: 1. Jones is a rookie, and 2. The offensive line play has been shaky, at best. If the running backs can’t nullify a blitzer, that would be a third reason.

Harris was easily pushed aside by the Saints’ C.J. Gardner-Johnson with 7:35 left in the first quarter. Now imagine Taylor, about 30 pounds lighter than Harris, stopping a linebacker bearing down on Jones in his tracks. Being a blitz speed bump won’t cut it for the Patriots coaches.

Running backs coach Ivan Fears had high praise for Taylor during the preseason:

"“He still has those moments, but I have to admit J.J. has come a long way. A long way,” Fears said. “I mean, last year we wouldn’t have thrown him into the passing game to save his ass.  But right now, yeah he stepped up and he’s made it kind of interesting for us.”"

Interesting can cut both ways. It could be Taylor taking a screen pass 55 yards to the house, or Jones running for his life because the blitzing safety plowed through Taylor.

Next. Patriots X-factor against Brady and the Buccaneers. dark

If it’s the latter, then Taylor won’t see much playing time. Taylor can be dynamite for the New England Patriots in a very good way. Or blow up offensive plays by not doing his job well.