We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The Indianapolis Colts selected stud Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor with the 41st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. College football’s sixth-most-productive running back ever in terms of total rushing yards, Taylor has looked the part of an absolute stud bell-cow back since his freshman season with the Badgers back in 2017.
Fast forward to 2021, and Taylor is coming off an at-times dominant rookie campaign that ultimately produced 1,468 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Colts’ wild-card loss to the Bills wasn’t exactly how they envisioned the season ending, and next year’s edition of the offense will look markedly different with ex-Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz under center in place of retired 2020 starter Philip Rivers.
What follows is a breakdown of just how good Taylor was in 2020 and what we should expect from him as a fantasy football asset during his encore.
Taylor looked awfully dominant the last time we saw him
The Colts’ rookie running back finished 2020 as the PPR RB6 behind only Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, David Montgomery and Aaron Jones. However, this was hardly a season that featured consistent dominance. Taylor was the PPR RB15 before the Colts’ Week 7 bye, reaching 60% snaps and/or 20 touches on just one occasion. Things didn’t immediately improve: Taylor was the PPR RB16 in Weeks 1-11 before he missed the Colts’ Week 12 matchup against the Titans due to COVID-19.
And then JT went Super Saiyan on everyone.
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It’s not fair to hold Taylor’s weak end-of-season schedule against him any more than we would for Henry or Montgomery; just realize we saw a lower floor than some might remember from the rookie before his final six games of the season.
The film was generally impressive, although the flashy plays weren’t all that present in the first half of the season. Overall, Taylor forced just eight total missed tackles as a rusher in Weeks 1-10 compared to 37 during his final seven games through the playoffs.
Be careful about simply attempting to confirm our priors in fantasy land despite what the film tells us; some of the overreactions to Taylor’s blown-coverage induced 39-yard touchdown catch against the Texans were nauseating. It’s true that all touchdowns are counted equally in fantasy football and style points don’t matter. Still, going through Taylor’s scoring reel from last season doesn’t exactly lead me to believe he’s in a different stratosphere than every other running back in the league.
Every TD from Jonathan Taylor as a rookie pic.twitter.com/Q6ktDeUZBy
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 14, 2021
The analytics back up the take that Taylor, while great, wasn’t some sort of world-beating monster throughout the entirety of 2020.
- PFF rushing grade: 80.1 (tied for No. 13 among 48 RBs with 100 total carries in 2020, including playoffs)
- Missed tackles forced per rush: 0.18 (tied for No. 18)
- Yards per carry: 4.9 (tied for No. 10)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.0 (tied for No. 19)
- Stuff rate: 7.5% (tied for No. 16)
Taylor deserves credit for turning in the 22nd-best PFF receiving grade among 48 qualified backs, although backfield mate Nyheim Hines actually finished No. 1 out of this group. Three drops in Taylor’s final two games muddle up what was previously an incredibly efficient season from him as a receiver. Either way, it’s great to see that Taylor was at least a competent, if not solid, receiving option after this part of his game was viewed as a negative coming out of college.
The problem for Taylor is that we have new questions to answer in both the volume and efficiency markets.