The Indianapolis Colts were dealt a pretty big blow to their offense in week one when starting running back Marlon Mack went down with an Achilles tear. This left the starting role to rookie second round pick Jonathan Taylor. In two starts Taylor has flashed some good moments but his play hasn’t been where you would like to see it.
So this begs the question that I’d like to ask.. Should we see more Jordan Wilkins in the offense while Taylor continues to develop and refine his game? In today’s film room, I will discuss why Wilkins needs to be more involved going forward.
Now to preface this part of the piece, I will say that it is hard to directly compare the two players based on situation of their carries. Taylor has received a bulk of the starter carries while Wilkins has mostly received carries at the end of the game. While some would say that Wilkins has the easier road to yards late due to defenses facing his fresh legs and it more being in garbage time, I would counter that by saying he is facing a defense that knows a run is definitely coming. There are many ways of looking at it and this context is important to note.
Looking at raw stats and averages though, Taylor is having a decent start to his career in Indy. He currently has 48 carries for 182 yards (3.8 ypc) and 2 touchdowns. Wilkins on the other hand has been his steady self as always as he has 18 carries for 79 yards (4.4 ypc) on the season.
On the surface, the two backs are producing around the same but it gets interesting once you dig into the advanced stats that Pro Football Focus has provided. Taylor on the year has created 2.48 yards after contact per rush while Wilkins has created 3.83. Wilkins has also broken more tackles this year in the running game (9) than Taylor (7) has on less than half of the carries. Wilkins actually ranks as the highest running back in the league currently in elusive rating for PFF with his 9 forced missed tackles on just 18 attempts. Wilkins also has the longest run between the two backs and a higher breakaway percentage (27.8% for Wilkins with just 8.8% for Taylor).
So before we even get into some of the film and my reasoning for saying that Wilkins should play more, the stats seem to back up the notion that Wilkins is outplaying Taylor to a degree so far this season.
While the stats can be very telling, the film backs each one of them up. Taylor is an absolute freak and is much more athletic and powerful than Wilkins. Where Wilkins has him beat though is his ability to find the right lane and also in how he manipulates defenders with his footwork and eyes. This play is an excellent example of that. He sets up the backside linebacker well by pressing the intended rush lane. As soon as that linebacker begins to over pursue, he jump cuts to the cutback lane and hits the big hole for a huge gain. This is something that Taylor just hasn’t done yet and Wilkins is simply prolific at.
Love how Wilkins presses the run play side here before jump cutting the over pursuing backside linebacker for a big gain. Smooooooth pic.twitter.com/wd9ywEGsfn— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 29, 2020
His contact balance has been much better than Taylor’s too, just like what the numbers say above. In limited snaps, he is forcing more missed tackles. The reason is a constant leg drive. Wilkins may not be the strongest running back in the league but he gets that head down and drives through contact to create extra yards and fall forward. This is a play from last week that should have been blown up in the backfield yet he turns it into a positive gain on the play.
Jordan Wilkins casually turning a three yard loss into a three yard gain pic.twitter.com/kaH5DmdRue— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 29, 2020
The absolute biggest reason why Wilkins needs to play more is his ability to make something out of nothing. The play doesn’t need to be perfectly blocked for Wilkins to gain positive yards. He has this innate ability to know when to hit a hole and how to hit it to gain the most yards possible. He also is really good at making players miss in the backfield so that helps as well. Here the play is nearly blown up in the backfield again but he is able to use a nice stiff arm and get up field for a gain of 9 on the play.
Even when the blocking breaks down, Wilkins is able to make things happen. He really needs more carries this year. He looks really good pic.twitter.com/cWhAqPNUuy— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 29, 2020
At the end of the day, Taylor is a super talented back and is the future of this backfield. The issues he is currently having in terms of vision and manipulating defenders will smooth out with time. He is simply adjusting to the NFL game without the help of a preseason or a normal offseason and that is okay! All I’m suggesting is until he gets his legs under him, the running backfield should be more of a split between him and Wilkins rather than Wilkins as the backup type running back. Plays like this one below are fine in games against the Jets but in big games, running backs can’t miss these holes. Long term Taylor will be fine but for now the Colts should lean a bit more on their steady veteran in Jordan Wilkins.
Jonathan Taylor had some really good moments on Sunday but I still think he's leaving yards on the field. If he presses this hole inside and then bounces outside Castonzo, it's an easy first down. Still a work in progress with vision and ability to manipulate defenders with feet pic.twitter.com/TnnrtnnnAC— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 29, 2020