Second-year running back J.J. Taylor was all over the place for the Patriots this preseason, putting the strides he made in his first offseason on display and making his case to not only stick around but contribute on the field. Overall, Taylor's numbers from the three preseason games are impressive -- 23 carries for 179 rushing yards, 10 catches for 62 receiving yards, seven punts returned for 62 yards and three kickoffs returned for 68 yards.
"You've got to go out and do your job and make something happen, because it's 11 guys out there and you've got to show what you can do," said Taylor after the game.
On a team that values versatile players, Taylor showed this summer that he can do it all and despite a lack of height, he runs hard into contact and demonstrated his ability to stay healthy despite a significant workload that dates all the way back to OTAs in the spring when he saw the bulk of the reps.
Taylor's hard-charging style makes him a unique back and one who could be used in a lot of different ways.
"Either to hit or get hit, that's the only mentality I have is give a blow or take a blow," said Taylor. "You choose what side you want to be on."
While he didn't quite match his 93-yard rushing output from Week 2 of the preseason, Taylor's performance in the preseason finale might have been even more efficient and balanced overall.
Taylor entered the game in the second quarter and immediately had an impact, drawing a holding call as the Patriots offense tried to set up a screen play for him. Just before halftime, with only seconds remaining, Taylor busted off a draw for 21 yards. Although the situation made it a little easier for the play to pick up some yards, Taylor's ability to hide amongst the trees on those kinds of plays was a consistent theme this summer. Once Taylor broke free, he turned on the speed, then shaking loose from a would-be tackler. The burst and finish were also consistent parts of Taylor's game this summer.
The offense would come out firing to start the second half, but would face a third-and-4 situation that is no sure thing on the ground. Taylor got the call, running behind a well-choreographed offensive line that opened up a nice hole and picking up the first down by running through an arm tackle that might've stopped him short. Two plays later, Taylor would take an off-tackle run 18 yards, beating the pursuing linebacker with impressive quickness.
The Patriots' defense forced a punt on the next possession and Taylor would have his number called to return it, exploding up the middle for 23 yards and setting up the offense in Giants territory. They'd put the ball in the end zone again just four plays later.
Later in the third quarter, Taylor would take a handoff left and be met by a pursuing Giants linebacker that could've downed him in the backfield. But Taylor delivered a stiff arm to the bigger player and picked up the first down. It was another display of surprising strength and toughness.
His final big play of the game came late in the fourth quarter, running behind fullback Jakob Johnson and again breaking through arm tackles to pick up 19 yards. It was another unique play that showed the range of Taylor's possibilities.
Sunday night's win over the Giants was a strong finish to a strong offseason for J.J. Taylor. Not only did he show he can potentially play any role as a running back but that he can be a reliable returner in the kicking game as well. He might not look like a big back, but he plays like one and demonstrated he can run from power sets and as the single back.
With New England trading Sony Michel to Los Angeles, it could mean the opportunities will continue to present themselves to the second-year running back and he looks ready to take on whatever the Patriots throw at him.