Despite some recent rookie struggles, the Indianapolis Colts are still publicly stating that the team remains confident in running back Jonathan Taylor:
Frank Reich, asked about his confidence level in Jonathan Taylor: "Lot of confidence in all of our backs ... wish we would've gotten him more involved in the 2nd half. He'll continue to get opportunities, and we'll continue to mix it up."— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 9, 2020
The Colts’ second round rusher had just averaged a mere 2.0 yards per carry on 11 carries just two weeks ago at Detroit—somewhat showing a lack of vision and inability to break/avoid first contact.
However, Taylor got off to a hot start this past Sunday against the stingy Baltimore Ravens’ front seven—including a run of 11 yards and a 1-yard ‘airborne’ touchdown run in the first quarter to get the Colts on the board first.
He had another big run of 9 yards late in the first quarter when disaster struck.
The Colts were already up 7-0 (following Taylor’s touchdown) and were cruising on a consecutive offensive drive at the Baltimore 45-yard line—looking to go up two scores, when Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters punched the ball out from Taylor after his would-be 9-yard gain.
Ravens safety Chuck Clark scooped it up and took it 65 yards the other way for the touchdown—en route to making Colts quarterback Philip Rivers flail on the ground like a baby deer falling on ice during a tackling attempt. That was a colossal play for the Colts and changed the complete complexion of the game—which had been a contest that Indianapolis had been handedly controlling up to that point.
Taylor was a little more than an afterthought from that point forward for the Colts, as the rookie had just one rush for 2 yards and one catch for 5 yards after that in the team’s offensive gameplan/attack.
The Colts’ coaching staff maintains that Taylor wasn’t necessarily benched, but rather, it was an effort to use all three of their running backs according to the game script and underlying circumstances:
Jonathan Taylor fumble: "Coach Rathman alternates those guys. It was the plan to split it up between the three of them. ... There was never a discussion over the headset to get the other guys in there."— Jim Ayello (@jimayello) November 8, 2020
“Ah, we’ll see. I mean, we like what Jonathan’s done. He had an unfortunate fumble on a really good run this week, just working to get extra yards, and Marcus Peters, who’s one of the best I’ve ever been around causing turnovers, he got his hand in there and knocked it out. But we like Jonathan. Jonathan’s played pretty good football for us, and as he gains more experience and continues to play, we think he’s got a lot of talent and a lot of ability, and we expect to see big things from him the second half of the season.”
To be fair, Taylor has done some good things for the Colts at times too.
The 21 year old running back has 106 carries for 416 rushing yards (3.9 ypc. avg.) and 4 touchdowns during 8 games (7 starts).
To his credit, the rookie hasn’t gotten down on himself either:
One thing's for sure: Jonathan Taylor isn't down on himself. The Colts' rookie RB says he's leaning on veteran teammates, who've helped pick him up in recent weeks while his role shifts. He also acknowledges, "We dearly, dearly miss Marlon (Mack)." He's right on that one.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 10, 2020
In a season where he was expected to be eased in as a backup behind last year’s 1,000 yard rusher, Marlon Mack, Taylor was thrown into the fire completely a little earlier than expected—with the former starting running back’s season-ending Achilles injury.
Taylor’s definitely shown some flashes but also a few head-scratching decisions at times.
Bottom line, he’s still a rookie learning the position, the Colts playbook, his offensive line, and the speed and physicality of the NFL ranks—with a shortened training camp and offseason of physical team activities because of COVID-19.
While change-of-pace rusher Jordan Wilkins’ success at times behind Taylor has raised issues of whether he should be the starter or at least featured more prominently than the rookie, the numbers don’t exactly bear that out:
(find Wilkins and Taylor in this graphic) pic.twitter.com/UPPiQMZGr8— T.Y. Hilton Fan Account (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) November 9, 2020
Although he’s endured some recent rookie struggles and hit the proverbial first-year ‘brick wall’ right now, the Colts should rightfully remain confident in Taylor.
Not every rookie running back comes out of the gates like Edgerrin James ‘ready to roll’ as the 1999 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and that season’s league leading rusher.
Once upon a time in 2017, it took Mack some time to adjust to the NFL level—with 93 rushes for 358 rushing yards (3.8 ypc. avg.) and 3 rushing touchdowns in 14 games during his rookie campaign before rushing for 900 rushing yards (4.7 ypc. avg.) and 9 touchdowns just a year later in Indianapolis.
The Colts should still be big believers in Taylor long-term, but he’s definitely enduring some rookie lumps right now.
That being said, patience is key because bigger picture, the young back’s future is still bright.