Jonathan Taylor is a top-five running back in the NFL already. After taking a mid-season leap following a rough start, Taylor looked like the superstar he was throughout his collegiate carrier at Wisconsin. Finishing third in rushing yards behind only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook, Taylor valued into a different stratosphere for ball carriers once December rolled around.
Now, entering his sophomore campaign, the expectations are sky-high for the Colts’ second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. When diving into the numbers, Taylor’s metric rise from average to elite revolved around not only gaining confidence and adjusting to NFL speed, but also the coaching staff gaining trust. As Colts fans know, Taylor seemingly lost out on a true bellcow-type roll mid-season as Jordan Wilkins began to usurp Taylor.
That didn’t last long, though, and Taylor quickly became the fulcrum of Indianapolis’ offensive attack. Over the Colts’ last seven games, Taylor averaged 20 carries per game and 22.3 overall touches. Compare that to the first nine games and it’s a stark difference — 11.2 carries and 13.7 touches.
With the re-signing of Marlon Mack on a 1-year deal, plus more of a role upcoming for Nyheim Hines, how should Taylor’s usage look during the 2021-22 season? Honestly, he shouldn’t come off the field much. Although Mack is back, I have a hard time even carving out a 100-plus touch output for him. Meanwhile, Hines shouldn’t eat into Taylor’s carries as much as a pass-catching weapon out of the backfield.
Taylor is in the upper-echelon of running backs, and he should be treated as such moving forward. There’s not many RBs I would take over Taylor right now in the NFL. He’s firmly in the top-five tier for me with these players the only ones I would consider over the former Wisconsin Badger: Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey.
Especially against a loaded schedule in the first five weeks of the regular season, Indianapolis should rely heavily on Taylor. And when diving into how other running backs have been utilized, Taylor should fall into a Henry or Cook-esque usage in 2021-22.
Since the 2018-19 season, here are the only running backs to receive 350-plus touches in a season: Henry, Cook, McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley. Over a 17-game schedule, this workload would average out to around 20 touches per game. And I think that’s right on the money for what Taylor deserves within the Colts’ offense. Their success will ride-or-die on Taylor, and new starting quarterback Carson Wentz will rely heavily on his running back to ease his transition into a new system.
It’s time for the Colts to fully unleash Taylor this season. If they do, the results should be spectacular. For reference, the Colts were 5-1 last season when Taylor received at least 20 touches. In this outings, Taylor averaged 137 yards from scrimmage. Expanding that out over a 17-game schedule, that’s 2,329 scrimmage yards for the Colts’ star running back.