According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano (subscription), Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is one of his ‘most intriguing players’ for the upcoming 2023 campaign:
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
I wrestled with which running back to put here to represent the sorry state of the position’s current market. Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard are all on franchise tags. Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette are all free agents. J.K. Dobbins is somehow upset about his contract even though he has played a total of eight games over the past two seasons. (Seriously? Read the room, dude.)
But I picked Taylor, who’s entering his fourth season with the Colts and is extension-eligible for the first time. But he is also coming off a frustrating, injury-riddled year that started with him being the consensus first overall pick in every fantasy draft and ended with just 861 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Taylor is still just 24 and scheduled to earn $4.304 million in this final year of his contract. Based on his 2022 season, when he led the league in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns, he’s worth more than that. But how much more?
Four of the top five highest-paid running backs by average annual salary signed their deals in 2020, and the other (Nick Chubb) signed his in 2021. The running back market does not move the way the market does at other positions, and teams don’t seem interested in stretching to pay running backs. If you’re Taylor, signing now at what you probably believe is a below-market number coming off your worst season doesn’t sound great. But if you play it out and look more like your 2021 self, your best-case scenario is probably a franchise tag.
It looks very unlikely that there will be a mid-July flurry of Barkley/Jacobs/Pollard deals that reset the running back market. Maybe Taylor can be the guy who does it next year. But man, a lot of stuff would have to change around the league between now and then.
Entering a contract season and with the ability to potentially become the highest paid running back in NFL history—and ‘reset the market’ so to speak, Taylor should be extra motivated to put together a monster rebound season.
While an ankle injury limited him to just 11 games last season, one which eventually required offseason surgery, Taylor is just a year removed from a ridiculous statistical season in which he rushed for 1,811 total rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns on 332 total carries.
If he’s fully healthy, Taylor has a chance to reclaim his crown as the best running back in all of football and put together another highly impressive, NFL First-Team All-Pro caliber season again—maybe as even an outside MVP candidate, if the Colts can shock the world as an underdog, AFC playoff dark horse.
Taylor should be helped with the offseason addition of top rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, whose dynamic ability as a rusher and passer should make the combination of him and Taylor difficult to stop in the RPO and play-action game—keeping opposing defenses off-balance and continuously guessing.
Not to mention, Richardson’s much upgraded arm strength should prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box, who routinely dared the rookie’s aged predecessor, Matt Ryan, to throw past 7 yards—and largely focused on stopping Taylor.
Taylor is still only 24 years old and keeps himself in great shape, and while there’s heavy mileage from his prolific collegiate days at Wisconsin, his limited workload last season because of the lingering ankle injury may actually help his longevity in the NFL and for fulfilling that looming multi-year lucrative contract.
Time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet against Taylor, and he’s been placed in a situation to have a lot of success again—as the Colts should lean heavily on him in the ground game to complement the rookie Richardson and ease his initial transition to the pro ranks.