The Path of Jonathan Taylor
Welcome to my detailed journey into the blossoming career of Colt’s running back Jonathan Taylor. We’re going to take a deep dive into whether or not Taylor belongs at the top of your dynasty running back rankings. Eventually, I’ll unveil where Taylor belongs in my own dynasty rankings as well.
Due to his collegiate production, and freakish combination of size and athleticism, Taylor is one of the best running back prospects we’ve ever seen; but his rookie season was a mixed bag. Some struggle to peg where Taylor belongs among the best running backs in the NFL. Today, we’re going to completely unpack the total picture and discover where he actually belongs.
Taylor’s Collegiate Career
Heading into the 2020 offseason, there wasn’t a running back I was looking forward to seeing get drafted more than Taylor. His collegiate production, highlights and film were as legendary as they come. The man was simply an unstoppable machine in college. In his three seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers, Taylor amassed 926 carries, 6.6 yards per carry, 55 rushing touchdowns, 42 receptions, 407 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns. Everybody wanted to see this guy in the NFL and couldn’t wait for it.
Taylor’s NFL Combine
We were all confident Taylor would be an NFL star, but I wasn’t ready to go all in until I got a glimpse of his NFL Combine. Before I continue: yes, the NFL Combine does not dictate whether any player is guaranteed to be anything based on how they perform, but it definitely helps measure the potential pitfalls and upsides of any given player. Taylor displayed nothing but upside when his time came. He ran an astounding 4.39 forty time at 226 pounds. Via playerprofiler, his forty time was in the 98th percentile, and resulted in a glorious 121.7 speed score (99th percentile). His rare speed score was accompanied by an impressive 122.7 burst score (71st percentile), and an above average 11.25 agility score (66th percentile). Overall, he checked out with a fiery 120.5 SPARQ-x score (77th percentile). Bottom line? Taylor was a freaky freak, and immediately became my top ranked rookie running back. I couldn’t wait to see where he would land in the NFL Draft.
The NFL Draft
The first round comes and goes, and while Taylor could have been a first round pick, it wasn’t expected. Teams didn’t seem as infatuated with Taylor as they were with Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, primarily due to his gifts not only as a runner, but as a pass catcher; something Taylor didn’t have an opportunity to showcase as he was only targeted 65 times in three years.
Lack of opportunity to contribute in the air wasn’t the only concern teams had. Taylor also had a tendency to fumble in college (eighteen fumbles in total). In addition, he had a massive amount of mileage on him; something some teams don’t want to see.
As we know now, the only back to go in the first round ended up being Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the Kansas City Chiefs, but Taylor wasn’t far behind, coming off the board as the third running back taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Indianapolis Colts moved up in the second round to snag Taylor, and at that point, it was all over. Taylor running behind guard Quenton Nelson and the Colts excellent run blocking unit is the stuff fantasy enthusiasts dreamed of. As a result, I immediately moved him into my top five dynasty backs.
People were still concerned with projected starter Marlon Mack standing in Taylor’s way, and then head coach Frank Reich began touting Nyheim Hines as a pass catcher. There were concerns of a running back by committee in the making. This worrisome dilemma made his third round offseason ADP slightly nerve-racking. It would be hard to imagine Taylor living up to all his potential as a rookie if he wasn’t going to be the featured back. The only thing Taylor primarily had in his favor was having second-round draft capital. In most cases you’re given the reigns, but it’s far from a guarantee.
Taylor’s First Nine Games
Tragically, Mack suffered an Achilles tear during the game. If he hadn’t, I’m not sure how much Taylor we would have seen at all this year. Taylor’s first nine games in the NFL were about as frustrating as they come. They were a mix of good and bad, but mostly bad. Taylor’s vision seemed absolutely broken. He was missing holes and wasn’t hitting the correct gaps. During those nine games, Taylor averaged 3.7 yards per carry, and 47.6 rushing yards. There was legitimate concern Taylor might be the next Trent Richardson.
Ironically, the biggest sign of hope in the nine game stretch was the fact that Taylor was stuck in a committee. Taylor was losing out on work not only to Hines, but to Colt’s outcast Jordan Wilkins as well. But! There was a direct correlation between games where Taylor saw over 50% of the snaps with being productive and efficient.
Via playerprofiler, of those nine games, Taylor saw over 50% of the snaps in only three of them. In those three games, Taylor averaged a 60.1% snap share, 16.6 carries, 4.54 yards per carry, 16 routes, three targets, 2.6 receptions, 99.6 total yards, and 16.6 fantasy points in full PPR. Compare the three to the other six games, where Taylor saw averages of: 35.4% snap share, 10.5 carries, 3.2 yards per carry, 9.5 routes, 2.5 targets, 55.3 total yards, and 9.53 fantasy points it was clear he needed more work.
There’s no denying Taylor’s vision needed growth, but the bottom line was Jonathan Taylor was productive and relatively efficient when given the opportunity–and downright terrible when he didn’t touch the ball enough.
Taylor’s Final Six Games
It took until Week 11, but something finally hit Reich, and he started feeding Taylor. In a contest against the Green Bay Packers, Taylor was fed 22 carries (his highest total since week two), four targets, and produced 114 total yards on 4.09 yards per carry. He only saw a 52.1% snap share, but he absolutely made the most of it.
Over the next five weeks Taylor’s snap share spiked to an average of 63.6%, and again, we see improved production and efficiency correlated to his usage. In the five weeks, Taylor saw averages of: 19.4 carries, five yards per carry, 15.4 routes, 2.6 targets, two receptions, 144.6 total yards, and 26.1 fantasy points in full PPR.
Taylor was the RB1 during that stretch, but more context matters. First and foremost, that does include a Week 17 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he popped off for 254 total yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, though, it’s the matchups that matter. Taylor faced the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans (twice), Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Four of those teams ranked in the bottom six in allowing fantasy points to running backs. The Steelers were the only formidable rushing defense (ranked 6th in fewest points allowed to running backs) Taylor faced down the stretch, but they were without edge-rushing specialist Bud Dupree.
Jonathan Taylor’s Dynasty Ranking
Alright, so we’ve detailed the good and the bad of Taylor’s season, but how does it all culminate? Weeks 1-17, Taylor finished the season as the RB6 in full points per reception – PPR – and as the RB8 in average points per game.
Via playerprofiler, Taylor ended the season among running backs:
- 9th in dominator rating (27.6%)
- 15th in production premium (+12.2)
- 17th in yards created (305)
- 2nd in breakaways runs (14)
- 9th in breakaway rate (6%)
- 10th in evaded tackles (64)
- 2nd in catch rate (87.8%)
- 8th in yards per route ran (1.57)
- 3rd in rushing yards (1,169)
- 4th in total touchdowns (12)
- 6th in yards per reception (8.3)
- 8th in carries (232)
- 18th in receiving yards (299)
- 19th in receptions (36)
- 10th in goal line carries (9)
- 8th in red zone touches (52)
Those categories detail where Taylor really excelled in terms of efficiency, while also giving a glimpse of what kind of opportunities he was given.
In conclusion, Taylor has absolutely moved nowhere for me. He’s still stuck right at my RB5, behind Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook. Taylor has one huge advantage over all those names, in that he’s the youngest; but until he produces consistently at a high level, I’m just not ready to move him above those names.
I also won’t be able to breathe a sigh of relief until I see Taylor be given the reigns entirely. Yes, it seems to be trending that way, but the running back by committee system runs rampant in the NFL, much to the demise of fantasy managers. I’d also like to see him produce against better defenses the same way he did against the porous ones.
Volume is king and consistency matters. Taylor is trending in the right direction, but he’s not the top running back in dynasty just yet.