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The Kelvin Taylor Dilemma: Can he carry the load?

GAINESVILLE -- New Florida coach Jim McElwain is regarded as an offensive guru, but his plan is really pretty simple: Give the football to your best players. Then do it over and over again.

As SB Nation’s Ian Boyd explained:

“McElwain’s offense is seen in his adherence to running a bell cow offense, one in which the best players are fed the ball until they are stuffed. In 2014 at Colorado State, the bell cow was wide receiver Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins, whom McElwain was able to deliver the ball to 89 times for 1,640 yards and 17 touchdowns. The previous season it was running back Kapri Bibbs, who carried the load with 281 carries for 1,741 yards. At Alabama, Mark Ingram and Richardson topped 1,600 yards in 2009 and 2011, respectively.” 

Florida receiver Demarcus Robinson -- easily the team's top playmaker -- should be heavily targeted next season, but with so much inexperience up front the Gators are expected to lean on their running game.

Which then begs the question: Is Kelvin Taylor capable of carrying the load?

There’s an assumption that Taylor, a junior, is a “budding star,” a “breakout candidate” or even a potential “Heisman Trophy sleeper.”

Based on Taylor’s career thus far though, none of those projections should come with any great aplomb.

The son of former UF legend Fred Taylor, Kelvin has been burdened by lofty expectations ever since he arrived in Gainesville. He holds the high school rushing record in Florida and garnered comparisons to former UGA tailback Knowshon Moreno with a similar slippery, shifty running style, coupled with average speed and good vision. 

The former five-star prospect has been a solid second-banana in his first two seasons at Florida. He's a proven playmaking presence, but he’s never showcased as a star, feature-back in college.

Can he now?  

Taylor was productive as a freshman, tallying 508 yards and four touchdowns while splitting carries with several other tailbacks. He predicted a much better sophomore season. 

Instead, last year didn’t go as planned.

Taylor dominated the Cocktail Party with a 25-carry, 197-yard performance, but otherwise his development seemed to plateau. He posted nearly identical numbers (565 yards on 116 carries) to his freshman campaign, and he struggled to see consistent action due to issues in pass protection and a lack of versatility (just seven career receptions for 29 yards). 

He ranked just 24th in the SEC in yards per carry (4.9) and had as many runs over 10 yards as quarterback Treon Harris.  

Considering the rest of Florida’s offense faces more questions than a round of Jeopardy!, Taylor’s lack of explosiveness is a major concern moving forward. 

While McElwain had some dynamic duos at Alabama, he’s traditionally relied on a single, go-to back.

In his last seven seasons as either a head coach or coordinator, McElwain's starting tailback has averaged a whopping 219 carries for 1,314 yards (6.0 y/c).  

Taylor is slotted to fill that role in 2015, and McElwain’s hybrid system -- one that employs lots of inside zones, powers and creative wrinkles -- should benefit his running style.

Still, since UF is unlikely to produce a functional passing game next season, Taylor’s grind-it-out style doesn't solve the Gators' allergy to big plays. That's a problem. 

As he did in high school, Taylor is great at churning out short, positive yardage. But his average speed has limited his ceiling in college.

For example, say Taylor * hypothetically * had duplicated his all-star performance against UGA (his lone career 100-yard game) in UF’s rained-out opener against Idaho, he would’ve finished the season with 762 yards on 141 carries (5.4 average). Not bad. 

But that still would’ve placed Taylor behind SEC heavyweights Nick Chubb, Jonathan Williams, Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry and Alex Collins in total yards and yards per carry last season.

Florida needs more. 

Enter Jordan Scarlett.

The former St. Thomas Aquinas standout is a home run hitter and could poach carries from Taylor immediately. The four-star prospect may prove too talented to simply fill the role as Florida’s change-of-pace back.  Adam Lane -- the Gators’ human bowling ball and eternal doghouse dweller -- could be an option, too.

All this is to say -- despite projections -- Taylor may be saddled as a sidekick once again. Perhaps sharing the load is the role that best suits him and Florida. 

McElwain has been rightly lauded for his offensive creativity and bell cow approach, but if Taylor isn't "a budding star" then the Gators may not have a go-to tailback on the roster next season.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton




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