Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Dream landing spots for Jonathan Taylor

2H99NEE Houston, TX, USA. 5th Dec, 2021. Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) carries the ball during the 1st quarter of an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. Trask Smith/CSM/Alamy Live News

• Could Jonathan Taylor join an embarrassment of riches in Philadelphia?: If anyone knows how to utilize a running game, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles. However, is Taylor necessary for success?

• A big splash for a new regime: The Washington Commanders are under new ownership, could they make a splash move to ignite a maturing offense?

• Sticking with Steichen: Could a return to the Indianapolis Colts be the most likely and effective option?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

After weeks of speculation, the Indianapolis Colts have finally given Jonathan Taylor the green light to seek a trade. Taylor wants paid and the Colts are refusing to budge, which has led to a breakdown in the relationship. At his best, Taylor is the league's best running back, but he’s coming off a tough 2022 season.

Naturally, wherever he lands will impact his fantasy value. However, anyone who wants Taylor will do so with the knowledge that they have to give up notable draft capital and then extend his contract, so he isn’t going to be buried down a depth chart or put in a less-than-ideal situation. Every team that wants him needs him, but what are the dream landing spots for Taylor?

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins present themselves as an interesting landing spot for Taylor. They were heavily linked to Dalvin Cook prior to his signing with their AFC East rival New York Jets and everything pointed toward Cook joining his hometown Dolphins. After passing on Cook, seemingly due to the price tag combined with his injury concerns and age, it would make sense to think that the Dolphins will roll into 2023 with their running back room as is.

However, none of Raheem Mostert, Devon Achane, or Jeff Wilson have carved out a proper role for themselves as the lead back — and all three carry a different sort of concern that projects them more as a committee. The Dolphins need a runner like Taylor, and his presence would fit this team's ethos in a number of ways.

Mike McDaniel has already made it clear that this team wants to get better at rushing the ball in 2023. The Dolphins were 21st in EPA per rush and had the second-fewest rushing attempts in the NFL last season. The lack of volume and efficiency would usually be a worry for running backs, but McDaniel’s insistence on changing and adapting this offense is a good sign.

What the Dolphins like to do in the run game meshes well with Taylor, too. McDaniel helped cultivate one of the best run games in the NFL while in San Francisco, with so much of that team's success coming via zone concepts. That’s carried over to Miami. Last season, the Dolphins ran the eighth-most outside concepts among all offenses and were 16th in inside zone rushes. Those are the concepts where Taylor shines. The Colts offense has lived in zone concepts for the past few seasons, so there wouldn’t be much in the way of a learning curve.

Any sort of uptick in terms of rushing volume for the Dolphins is going to lead to more opportunities to score fantasy points, and if those opportunities go to one of the best running backs in the game, he could feast, especially with one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league around him.

Minnesota Vikings

The Alexander Mattison experience is fully underway. After four years as Cook’s understudy in Minnesota, Mattison takes the reigns as the full-time lead back for the first time in 2023. He performed well in his role as a spot starter while Cook was out injured at various points during his time with the team, averaging 19.8 fantasy points in six career starts — but those games were against some of the poorer defenses in the league at the time. The fact that Mattison had a career-low 74 carries in 17 games for the Vikings last season is telling — but for now, they’re running with him as their starter.

The Vikings were a wholly inefficient rushing team in 2022, generating the eighth-lowest EPA per rush in the NFL. An added rushing element for the offense is sorely needed as well. The passing attack of Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson can only account for so much, even with the addition of Jordan Addison. If the aim for the Vikings is to be competitive in 2023, then Taylor should be on the radar.

Taylor gives the Vikings exactly what they need. He’s known as a do-it-all runner, but his ability to bounce outside and create big plays is unparalleled when he’s at his best. It should be notable then that the Vikings ran outside plays at the second-highest rate among all teams in the NFL last season. Only the Atlanta Falcons, who ran outside at an absurd rate of 58 percent, ran more outside zone. 

Pairing Taylor with the Vikings offensive line is a strong match as well. The unit earned a 74.1 run-blocking grade — third-best in the NFL last season — and could be even stronger in 2023 as Christian Darrisaw returns healthy to play a full season. The need for a lead back in Minnesota is strong, and the team rewards their starting running backs with a healthy workload. Over the last four seasons, Cook carried the ball more than 240 times a season and finished as the RB6, RB2, RB16, and RB11. Projecting Taylor into this offense isn’t a hard task.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles running back situation is in good stead. The team traded for D’Andre Swift and signed Rashaad Penny in the offseason to compete with Kenneth Gainwell for touches in a variety of roles, but as the season draws nearer, we’re not much closer to a clearer idea of who the starter is. Swift is the most talented back on the team, and Gainwell is likely to see the third-down touches, but Penny has been a quietly effective runner in recent seasons — he just hasn’t had the injury luck needed. 

Despite the depth at the position, it’s hard to argue against the idea of Taylor landing with the Eagles. It’s a tantalizing prospect for a number of reasons. The Eagles’ rushing attack was by far the most efficient in the NFL last season, generating 0.129 EPA per play and a league-high 32 rushing touchdowns. Having one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks, as well as the best offensive line in the NFL, makes life significantly easier for whichever running ball is carrying the ball. A combination that helped led Miles Sanders to a career-high 1269 yards and 11 touchdowns on an efficient clip of 4.9 yards per carry en route to an RB15 finish — the second-highest of his career.

It’s never as easy as dropping someone into a role and expecting results, but with Taylor, it can be. Just picture him in that offense. Considering the depth in the backfield and Hurts’ role as a runner, the volume might not be in the same ballpark as Sanders was afforded in 2022, but Taylor would earn the share of the carries on the team. Having one of the best running backs in the league might give the Eagles a little more wiggle room to lessen the load on Hurts as a runner too. That means even more carries for Taylor.

Washington Commanders

For the first time in a lifetime, the Commanders have a modicum of hope. The sale of the team to Josh Harris means that the Dan Snyder era is over. And that’s enough. However, the on-field product still leaves a lot to be desired. This is a team in the middle of a transition as it moves on to yet another starting quarterback in Sam Howell. The Commanders have a pair of excellent receivers in Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson to satiate Howell’s need for weaponry, but there are still question marks surrounding the rushing attack.

The idea of Antonio Gibson is probably more appealing than the former third-round pick in action at this point, and though Brian Robinson feels more like a potential bell-cow, he didn’t set the world on fire in his 12 games in 2022 despite earning an 81.0 rushing grade, 22nd among all NFL running backs. There’s also the off-field quandary of whether or not this new regime should make a splash move to get fans excited – not that they need a reason to be at this point. This team could land themselves in the Taylor sweepstakes.

Surprisingly, the Commanders were one of the most run-heavy teams with the fourth-most carries in the NFL last season. That’s more than the likes of the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers — all teams who are considered somewhat run-centric. However, that volume never translated to effectiveness as the Commanders were one of the least efficient rushing teams in the NFL, ranking 23rd in EPA per rush. 

Robinson and Gibson split the carries pretty evenly, with the former operating more as the early-down rusher while the latter served as the third-down back. Both earned over 190 touches, but neither could really cement themselves as the guy. Bringing Taylor into the fold ends that debate. He’s shown that he can handle a hefty workload as an early-down rusher and has flashed enough to be a team's primary third-down back, so placing him in an Eric Bienemy offense would prove to be a fun experiment.

Indianapolis Colts

Despite all the rumors and the potential landing spots, the likely outcome is that Taylor doesn’t go anywhere and continues to ply his trade in Indianapolis. Trading tangible assets for a running back is one thing, especially in the current landscape, but any potential suitor would have to pay up and extend Taylor, too. Double jeopardy. As talented as he is, it’s fair to assume that it’s a tough ask.

If that’s the case, it’s still easy to be excited by the prospect of Taylor remaining in a Colts jersey. He’s barely two years removed from finishing as the RB1 in fantasy football while in this offense. Sure, it looks and feels different from the 2021 version of the Colts, but the 2023 edition might be even better for Taylor’s fantasy prospects. The offensive line, which earned a 62.0 run-blocking grade, has the chance to rebound too with Quenton Nelson hoping for a better year than 2022.

The selling point is the new and added threat of Anthony Richardson as a runner. The No. 4 overall pick is arguably the most physically gifted athlete to play the quarterback position in the NFL. That’s not hyperbole, Richardson is a freak and his prowess as a runner will give defenses nightmares. The knock against Richardson is that he needs more reps to improve as a passer and because of that, there’s a high possibility the Colts lean more into the damage they can do on the ground.

Shane Steichen has recent experience in utilizing an athletic quarterback as the offensive coordinator for the Eagles and found a balance that saw both Hurts and Sanders feast in real life and fantasy. Steichen knows the value of an impactful running game more than most, and if Taylor sticks around in Indianapolis, he’s sure to get the best usage out of him. The threat of Richardson, if the Colts decide to run read-options with him and Taylor, could open up new and wider running lanes for Taylor to attack too. 

In short, Taylor’s fantasy value might never be higher if he remains on the Colts in 2023 and beyond.


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