Comparisons become inevitable when the NFL draft rolls around.
Just think about how many times you heard the phrase "Can Andrew Luck be the next Peyton Manning?" last year.
While the comparisons aren't exactly fair to either player - no rookie wants to be immediately deemed a future Hall of Famer, and no veteran wants a rookie to take their place - these comparisons are useful to help figure out where players might fit into their new homes in the NFL. And for Stepfan Taylor, it could help boost his draft stock.
Perhaps the most unclear position in the 2013 NFL draft is running back, where it seems increasingly possible that no runner will be taken in the first round for the first time since 1963. That doesn't mean that this draft doesn't have any talented runners - but it does show that NFL teams aren't looking to bet big on a runner when they can find a diamond in the later rounds. And for Stepfan Taylor, that isn't be a bad thing at all. In fact, he might turn out to be this draft's running back gem - 2013's Frank Gore.
Physically and athletically, Taylor and Gore might as well be the same guy. Taylor's 5-foot-9, 214 pounds. Gore's 5-foot-9, 217 pounds. Taylor ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at his pro day; so did Gore.
They run basically the same way: low to the ground, patiently reading blocks, using small jump-cuts to elude tacklers, falling forward for extra yards, spinning their shoulders to fit through holes, never letting a defender get a square hit on them, and occasionally getting caught from behind by defensive backs.
Compare their college highlight reels:
On top of that, when you look at Gore's old pre-draft scouting reports, they read a lot like a description of Taylor. From SI.com:
Well-built, elusive ballcarrier with terrific football intangibles. Possesses outstanding field vision, runs low to the ground and displays the ability to quickly cut back against the grain. Follows blocks, finds the running lanes and a quick-footed back who bounces it around piles or makes defenders miss. Follows blocks at the line or down the field. Possesses a quick burst through the hole. Works runs, aggressively putting his shoulders into opponents and falling forward when tackled. Quickly picks up blitzes and pass-blocking assignments.
Their running styles are certainly alike because of their physical makeup, and they've both figured out how to maximize their talent given their skill sets. Taylor and Gore aren't guys who can run around the edge and plow headfirst into somebody [like Adrian Peterson] and they can't use their speed to just blaze past defenders like, well, Adrian Peterson. (Or Chris Johnson. You get the point.) But despite their lack of Peterson's nearly alien skills, one has rushed for over 1,000 yards in six of the last seven seasons and the other is the all-time leader rusher in Stanford football history. For both runners, reliability and consistency rule the day.
On top of that, Gore was the sixth running back taken in the 2005 draft (he was picked behind Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Cedric Benson, Cal's J.J. Arrington and Louisville's Eric Shelton.) and, if predictions hold true, Taylor is likely to be the sixth running back taken in this draft.
With all these similarities, what's to stop Taylor from becoming the next Gore? Two things: how his future team decides to use him and his durability.
If things go wrong for Taylor, he could end up falling by the wayside like another small, strong runner who came out of college just a few years ago - Mark Ingram. The Saints' 2011 first-round pick hasn't been the focal point of his team's offense so far - only carried the ball a total of 278 times in his two years, and he's suffered from foot injuries. In contrast, Gore tallied 439 carries during his first two seasons in the NFL.
The other thing that separates Gore from his draft class, which includes Brown, Williams, Benson, Marion Barber III, Brandon Jacobs and Darren Sproles is the fact that he's never had his knees and shoulders mercilessly ruined, even after he had two knee surgeries in college. Taylor's never had a serious injury or major surgery in college, so that does seem to bode well for his chances in the NFL.
Altogether, Taylor's all-around strengths, clean, methodical running style and durability all suggest that he could certainly become some team's mid-round steal that helps lead them to a Super Bowl someday. With a little luck and a shrewd general manager, Taylor can become a team's primary back, paired with another solid runner behind a good offensive line, and repeat Gore's NFL success.
Of course, around draft time, it may be wise to always remember a quote from the world's most-read book: "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong... but time and chance happen to them all."
Now Stepfan (and Kulabafi) has to hope that time and chance are on his side.