7. RB JONATHAN TAYLOR, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Taylor closed out the regular season and enters the playoff on a tear. The past six games of his rookie year were his six highest rushing grades of the regular season. Taylor started off the year with a 62.4 rushing grade through Week 10. He then improved that mark to 91.2 from Weeks 11-17, ranking behind only Derrick Henry for the best in the NFL.
The former Wisconsin Badger led all backs in percentage of runs to pick up a 10-plus yard gain (21%) in that stretch and ranked second in broken tackles per attempt (0.28). Obviously, some of that credit has to go to a Colts offensive line that finished eighth in run-blocking grade, but Taylor’s rushing grade down the stretch is something few obtain in a given year.
25. S JULIAN BLACKMON, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Blackmon flipped to safety in his final season at Utah in 2019 after a few middling years at outside corner. And the move really elevated his play. He recorded an 89.6 PFF grade in that final year while playing predominantly deep safety for the Utes, and he has carried some of that success early into Year 1 in the NFL.
Through the first 11 weeks of his pro career, Blackmon was the highest-graded rookie in the league by over nine grading points (73.0). Things went downhill for him the rest of the year, though, as he posted a 46.0 PFF grade from Week 12 on.
5. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Indianapolis’ top 2020 Draft picks:
Pick Player Pos. PFF grade Snaps
34 Michael Pittman Jr. WR 62.6 699
41 Jonathan Taylor RB 83.9 510
85 Julian Blackmon S 60.8 916
Michael Pittman Jr. did some damage on horizontal routes for Indy this season, ranking first in the NFL in yards per target (11.8) and second in yards after the catch per reception (7.5) on those routes. That said, Pittman was still relatively uninspiring on a per-game basis, averaging just 1.37 yards per route (71st of 99 qualifying wide receivers).
The Colts’ second pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, Jonathan Taylor, underperformed in the first half of his rookie season before turning on the jets in the second half. The first-year running back had one of the hottest stretches of play to close out the second half of the 2020 regular season, thrusting him among the very best at the position. From Week 11 on, no one turned a higher percentage of their carries into an explosive run of 10-plus yards than Taylor, and only Derrick Henry had a higher rushing grade than the rookie (91.2).
Julian Blackmon was Taylor’s exact opposite. The third-round pick was lights out over the first 11 weeks of the year and looked as comfortable at deep safety as he did last season at Utah when he switched to the position. Blackmon finished 16th among 74 qualifying safeties in PFF grade through Week 11 at 73.0, but from Week 12 on, he ranked 78th of 82 safeties at 46.0. Even with that decline, Blackmon still finished as one of the 10 most valuable rookies of the 2020 season, per PFF WAR.
First, regarding Taylor, the 5’10”, 226 pound running back rushed for the league’s 3rd most rushing yards at 1,169 rushing yards on 232 carries (5.0 ypc. avg.) and 11 rushing touchdowns. Those 1,169 total rushing yards were the most among all rookies in 2020.
He joined Colts franchise greats and Hall of Famers Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk as the only rookies in team history to rush for over 1,000 rushing yards and have at least 10 rushing touchdowns in his inaugural season.
Taylor got off to a slow start during his debut campaign. Due to COVID-19, he had an offseason of limited training camp and non-existent physical OTA’s. Taylor was also thrust into the starter’s job earlier than expected with a season-ending injury to Marlon Mack in the season opener. It may have taken him a little bit to get acclimated to the speed and physicality of the NFL level too, as well as comfortable with the Colts overall playbook.
Whatever the case may be, Jonathan Taylor was one of the NFL’s best running backs from Week 11 onward, as he simply caught fire down the stretch for the Colts. He showed off his vision and unique combination of tantalizing speed and power—along with some ‘wiggle’.
Meanwhile, Colts wideout Michael Pittman Jr. caught 40 receptions for 503 receiving yards (12.6 ypr. avg.) and a touchdown reception during 13 starts—having been set back with an unusual, yet scary compartment leg syndrome injury in his calf early in the season.
The rookie wideout showed flashes though, particularly with his physicality and burst running after the catch—reminding Colts fans of his former NFL running back father a bit.
Excelling on crossing and drag routes, Pittman Jr. is already the Colts most dangerous wideout with the football in his hands and was a physical blocker along the perimeter—but it will be enjoyable seeing him continue to develop as a route runner and deep threat.
Lastly, and perhaps most surprising was seeing rookie safety Julian Blackmon have so much initial success during 2020. Having been less than a year removed from a torn ACL and with very little training camp practice with his teammates—as he was rehabbing, Blackmon arrived early and often for the Colts from Week 2 of 2020 onward.
He was a playmaking presence, solidifying the backend of their secondary at starting safety.
He finished with 42 tackles (35 solo), a forced fumble, 2 interceptions, and 6 passes defensed during 15 games (14 starts).
At one point, Blackmon was a serious NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, showcasing his ballhawking, coverage skills, and hard-hitting ability—with a knack for finding the football.
However, Blackmon hit the figurative ‘rookie wall’ later in the season, as he had a few blown coverage assignments and missed tackles. Nevertheless, his future remains very bright.
The Colts had a talented trio headlining their 2020 rookie class, but the team also received positive contributions from fellow rookies: offensive guard Danny Pinter, cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, and linebacker Jordan Glasgow—with presumably much more to come.