2020 Review: Jonathan Taylor
Jonathan Taylor came into the league having the most productive three-year college career at RB of all time. At Wisconsin, he handled a huge workload. 966 touches, over 6500 scrimmage yards, and 55 touchdowns huge in his three years as a Badger. He landed in Indianapolis, where Marlon Mack had completed his first 1000 yard rushing season. This didn’t sway the consensus that Jonathan Taylor was one of the best running backs post-NFL draft. Dynasty managers were still taking Taylor at the top of rookie drafts. Often choosing him over the Chiefs CEH. He showed out at the combine, with a 99% speed score. It became very clear that Taylor would soon dethrone Mack as the primary RB for the Colts.
Heading into 2021, Taylor seems poised to be the focal point of his offense. The Colts added Carson Wentz to lead the passing attack, but have made no other notable additions. Nyheim Hines is set to stay in his role as the pass-catching back, which netted him 76 targets. Hines had himself a good season, finishing as RB15 in Marlon Mack’s absence. Mack is not known for his pass-catching prowess. He has never received more than 33 targets in his 4 years with the Colts. He has though, been ultra-efficient toting the rock the last few seasons with over 1000 yards from scrimmage in 2018 and 2019. It was set to be a messy committee in 2020 until Mack suffered his Achilles’ tendon injury.
The Mack effect:
After the Mack injury he took up the mantle as the Colts’ all-around back. Drawing 39 targets in the passing game and caught 92% of them, missing on only 3. He had a few solid games early in the season. He broke the 100-yard mark against Minnesota in Week 2 and averaged around 4 YPC in his first 6 weeks. It wasn’t until his last 6 weeks that he took off. Taylor finished as RB1 on a PPR, points per game basis from week 12-17. While the schedule did play a small part in that, there was no denying how good Taylor looked in that stretch. The Colts gave him about 6 more touches per game, and he was averaging around 5.4 YPC.
Jonathan Taylor 2020 Season:
16 game pace
Taylor had a lot of the carries that matter in fantasy football as well. He received the 7th most touches at RB inside the 10-yard line, and the 6th most inside the 5-yard line. He was able to finish RB6 on the season despite playing less than 50% of the offensive snaps for the Colts. Marlon Mack is bound to eat into some carries, but not as much the receiving game. Hines keep his pass-catching role, but it may appear more like that of a Giovanni Bernard and hover around 50 targets or so.
The evidence here is going to be brief and suspect at best. Marlon Mack coming back will still impact Jonathan Taylor. To what degree, pre-season may give us a glimpse of that. They were going into last season in Indianapolis with a running back by committee philosophy. The Colts did not even have an opportunity to try that out. Mack tore his Achilles shortly into Week 1 in 2020. Before last season, Mack was given heavy volume when healthy and was very productive on the ground. He received more than 20 touches in 42% of his games the last two seasons. With those touches, he racked up consecutive seasons of 1000 total scrimmage yards, and RB2 finishes.
While there is no sure way to project this backfield, bringing back Mack was a cheap move by the Colts to see if he has anything left in the tank. He will see his role reduced by a significant amount, but could still be a thorn in Taylor’s side. Mack was explosive before going down, but Achilles injuries are a tricky beast at running back. Still, only 25, if Mack can show some signs up life upon his return, he is sure to take about 120-150 carries or so. The switch to Carson Wentz from Phillip Rivers may also have a negative impact on the targets the RBs. Phillip Rivers had always shown his ability to dump off to the running back position, when Wentz may chuck it deep, or tuck it and run.
A Dissenting Point of view:
The biggest argument against Taylor from 2020 would be his end-of-season schedule. Jonathan Taylor faced a bottom four defenses against the running back in 4 of his last 5 games. In those last 5 weeks, he finished as the RB1 in PPG. He also scored 75% of his season total in touchdowns and 52% of his total PPR fantasy points. If he kept up his pace from weeks 1-11, he would have ended up with 184 PPR points at RB21. When it comes down to it, it was a perfect storm for Taylor to end the year. Taylor could have revved it up to end the season, so only time will tell if he is the running back we saw in the last few weeks of 2020. What we do know is there is a lot still left unknown about how the complimentary RBs will be deployed in this offense.
The Bottom Line:
The case is strong for Taylor to be a top 12 RB again this season. Even though his finishes in the last 5 games pushed him up the end-of-year finishes, Taylor was producing when given the opportunity. If Marlon Mack does not come back healthy enough to contribute, Taylor would be in line to see a very steady volume. Without a true “alpha” WR in this offense, it feels like the Colts will lean on their strength on the offensive line. Throughout his collegiate career and his rookie showing, Taylor has proven so far he can take a beating and keep on churning. The talent is unquestioned, but the difference between a top 12 and an RB2 finish is all about opportunities. The opportunity appears as though it will be there for Taylor. Look for him to make the most of it.This should make for a fun year for Jonathan Taylor fans.
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