Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor had a lot of hype entering his rookie season. Selected in the second round, most expected Taylor to take the world by storm following Marlon Mack’s Achilles injury. While he took some time to get going, Taylor eventually caught fire and dominated down the stretch. Heading into Year 2, can the Wisconsin product pick up where he left off as a rookie?
2021 Fantasy Football Outlook: Jonathan Taylor
While he wasn’t the first running back off the board, several analysts had Jonathan Taylor as the most talented running back in a stacked 2020 class. Selected by the Indianapolis Colts, fantasy owners everywhere were salivating at the idea of Taylor running behind that great offensive line with a checkdown-heavy quarterback in Philip Rivers.
Of course, expectations went through the roof when Marlon Mack suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. Now with full control of the backfield, Taylor had every opportunity to be an RB1 the rest of the way. While he disappointed early, he turned into one of the most reliable runners in the league down the stretch. From Weeks 11 to 17, Taylor was the RB3 with 24.3 fantasy points per game. While 1.2 touchdowns per game over this stretch isn’t sustainable, Taylor usually saw the field for 55-65% of the offensive snaps and handled the vast majority of the running back carries.
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2020
The biggest knock against Taylor’s ceiling was the lack of work in the receiving game. After recording six targets in the first game of the season, Taylor never saw more than five in a single contest the rest of the way. Nyheim Hines had a clear grip on the receiving job, finishing his season with 63 receptions for 482 yards and four touchdowns. Taylor, by comparison, finished with just 36 receptions for yards and a touchdown.
Jonathan Taylor made the most out of his opportunities last year, and it’s safe to say that he’ll do it again in 2021. Rushing success is driven more by the offensive line than the actual runner, and Taylor should have one of the better run-blocking units in the league. Even following the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, Pro Football Focus still believes Indianapolis has the second-best offensive line in football.
Taylor should be efficient with his touches, and he should receive a lot of him. Last year, Taylor finished with 232 of the Colts 405 running back rushing attempts (57%), and that number should only rise in Year 2. In addition to just being more comfortable in the offense, the Colts didn’t add any competition for carries. Marlon Mack is back, but he’s also coming off an Achilles injury. Historically speaking, running backs simply don’t return to form after these types of injuries. Betting on Mack to see more than 50-75 touches is betting on an outlier performance, and good fantasy football players do not bet on outliers.
Since it’s Marlon Mack day, this is what I could find on recent Achilles tears for RBs.
-11 total since 2010
-2 returned to play the following season (Hunter, Oliver)
-6 never saw an NFL touch again
-6 had 196+ touch season prior to tear
-0 had>85 touches in comeback year pic.twitter.com/APXmi1phSl
— Kyle_FFRecon (@Kyle_FFRecon) March 17, 2021
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for Jonathan Taylor. With Philip Rivers gone, the Colts downgraded at quarterback by switching to Carson Wentz. Wentz was an absolute disaster last year, and he hasn’t been an elite quarterback since his outlier 2017 performance. The offense will be worse, which means fewer scoring opportunities. Additionally, Wentz doesn’t throw to running backs nearly as often as Rivers, which means fewer targets. Additionally, with Hines still around, Taylor won’t even lead the running back room in targets.
Seeing as the Colts probably won’t be winning as often in 2021, Indianapolis will probably finish the season with fewer rushing attempts per game than they had last year. Assuming Taylor can earn 65% of the carries (roughly what he had down the stretch last year), then he should finish with approximately 230 carries for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. As far as targets, he’ll probably finish with 35 receptions for 300 yards and a score.
Jonathan Taylor Fantasy Football Average Draft Position
As of this posting, FantasyData.com has Jonathan Taylor as the RB7 in average draft position. This puts him just behind guys like Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley and just ahead of other stars like Nick Chubb, Austin Ekeler, and Aaron Jones.
Taylor certainly has the ability to finish in this range, but it feels like you’re drafting him at his ceiling. The lack of receiving work is a serious concern, meaning that you’d have to rely on elite rushing efficiency and scoring potential. Again, Taylor is talented and Indianapolis has a great offensive line, so this could happen, but it’s not the safest bet in the world, especially with Carson Wentz limiting scoring opportunities.
Personally, I would happily take Elliott, Barkley, and Ekeler ahead of Taylor in PPR redraft formats, as all three players should have a much more reliable target share. Taylor and Chubb should have very similar finishes, while it’s impossible to make any declarations on Aaron Jones without knowing what will happen to Aaron Rodgers.
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