TEMPE, Ariz. — A running back is tied for the team lead in touchdowns for the Arizona Cardinals.
And it’s not Andre Ellington.
Stepfan Taylor, a back who was drafted one round ahead of Ellington in 2013 out of Stanford, has three touchdowns this season, two of which have come as a receiver and the other as a runner. Sunday’s effort in Oakland was his best of the season, as he ran for 40 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries and gained 19 yards and a score on two receptions.
The 14 touches he had in the game were more than he had received the previous five games combined, and he played a key role in Arizona’s 24-13 win.
“I’m just out there doing my job, making the most of my opportunities,” he said Wednesday. “It was definitely exciting to get in the end zone, especially being back in the Bay Area where I played college ball, but I mean it was definitely exciting but it made it better that we got the win.”
Entering the season, Taylor was looked at as the team’s third running back behind Ellington and Jonathan Dwyer. However, he was elevated to the second spot when Dwyer was placed on the non-football injury list due to allegations of domestic abuse, though his promotion was not exactly followed by an increase in his role and numbers.
Still, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said there was never any lack of belief in what the 23-year-old back could do.
“Nothing new, just the fact that he’s dependable and he’s very hard to bring down inside the 10-yard line,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said when asked what Taylor showed him with the strong performance. “Those were two really good runs breaking tackles to get those touchdowns.”
Arians noted that Taylor’s role really hasn’t changed, saying Taylor will continue to see the field when Ellington needs a break.
“Now I don’t call some things that he can’t do, but we try to tailor it when he’s in there to what he does best,” he said.
In college, Taylor rushed for 4,300 yards and 40 touchdowns, while also catching 97 passes for 778 yards and five scores. He also left school as the only player in Stanford history to run for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, so it’s understandable that his confidence never wavered even when his playing time did.
“I feel like my confidence in myself is what keeps me going right now,” he said. “I know I’m a good player and I’m very confident in my abilities and I just come out here and work, do things the right way and good things will come. So I’m just being patient and controlling what I can control.”
The way the second-year-pro sees it, the process of having to wait for his chance only to shine when given the opportunity is pretty much par for the course of his career.
“It’s kind of happened at every level of football for me; it’s kind of like clockwork so I’m honestly not worried at all because it’s happened before,” he said. “The good thing is I’ve been through it so I know what to expect. It’s the same thing — just control what I can control and make sure I’m getting better every day in practice, that’s the biggest thing. I’m not letting this affect me and I’m going down on a downward spiral.
“I’m just trying to control what I can control, be positive and be patient.”
In a perfect world, Taylor would see a usage rate similar to what transpired in Oakland. Arians views Taylor as more of a power back than Ellington, someone who can get the tough yardage while also being a complete enough player to where he can do pretty much anything else the team may need. And with Ellington continually battling through a foot injury — along with the fact that running backs rarely make it through an entire season unscathed — Taylor knows his hard work and patience could be rewarded at any time.
“You never know what’s going to happen; everybody on the team needs to be ready,” he said, saying you can’t allow yourself to do things any differently just because you are not starting. “I always come in and prepare like I’m the starter and be ready for my opportunities.”