Indianapolis Colts superstar running back Jonathan Taylor remains a first round pick in most upcoming fantasy football drafts—although he’s seen his stock slide from the consensus No. 1 overall pick just a year ago to around the 10th pick in average draft position respectively.
After a monstrous 2021 campaign that saw Taylor lead the league in carries (332), rushing yards (1,811), and rushing touchdowns (18)—and presumably helped a lot of managers win their fantasy leagues, the Colts’ workhorse was limited by a lingering ankle injury last year.
As a result, Taylor rushed for just 861 total rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, which obviously paled in comparison to his ridiculous statistical performance just a season ago.
While I would realistically temper expectations at least some from the 2021 season Taylor had, if fully healthy again, No. 28 can regain his throne as the league’s ‘Triple Crown winner’ and the undisputed best back in all of football when he was an NFL First-Team All-Pro.
He should be significantly aided by the much anticipated offseason arrival of top rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who has unworldly athleticism and features unique dual-threat ability, and should be the perfect complement to Taylor in the RPO game—which should open up running lanes, attention, and space for the latter.
Not to mention Richardson’s upgraded arm strength over his aging Colts quarterback predecessor, Matt Ryan, should prevent opposing defenses from routinely stacking the box against Taylor—out of respect for the rookie’s big arm and his ability to make them pay with the deep ball downfield.
Best case scenario, I think you’re looking at 1,200 total rushing yards and 12 total rushing touchdowns. Not quite his MVP-caliber 2021 campaign, but still a highly productive season that most fantasy managers would gladly take from their first-round pick. Taylor should benefit from Richardson’s arrival, but the rookie could steal some goal line touches (and there’s another red zone dark horse option—which I’ll eventually get to here).
Worst case scenario, Richardson struggles to consistently make NFL throws, defenses load the box, and Taylor WORKS to churn out 900 total rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns.
One thing that should also help is that the Colts offensive line figures to be improved. Don’t forget that until interim head coach Jeff Saturday arrived and changes were made along the offensive line (namely benching departed starter Matt Pryor), this was a below-average unit.
With second-year left tackle Bernhard Raimann having more experience and another training camp under his belt, both Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith returning to standout form (and hopefully center Ryan Kelly too), this should be at least a league-average unit again. The real question appears to be at starting right guard, where it’s third-year pro Will Fries’ job to lose. However, new Indy offensive line coach Tony Sparano Jr. has faith in him.
If Taylor were to go down again, I don’t know that I’d feel overly confident in any member of this current backfield to be a consistent contributor, much like last season where Deon Jackson and Zack Moss had a big game or two, but not consistently in Taylor’s absence.
In such a situation, I would expect the Colts to go to a more ‘running back by committee’ approach, where each running back is utilized according to their specific skill-set—namely Moss between the tackles and in short yardage, and either Jackson or rookie fifth-round pick Evan Hull as the third-down, pass-catching back.
None would be overly desirable fantasy options, and if Taylor were to have a lengthy absence, hopefully you’d have better bench or waiver options readily available to you.
It is necessary to mention that Taylor, unhappy with the state of his contract negotiations with the Colts and owner Jim Irsay’s very public aversion to the idea of paying the running back, has requested a trade. Irsay gave that idea an emphatic no, but things could change over the next week weeks. Taylor is also on the PUP list with an ankle injury and is projected to be able to return by Week 2 of the regular season.
One other Colts player to consider would be a flyer on tight end Jelani Woods in the later rounds of your fantasy draft. Selected by the Colts in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Woods has monstrous size (6’7, 253 pounds) and surprising speed (4.61 40-yard dash) for his stature. He could be poised to be a major red zone target at a typically scarce position for league talent (outside the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, of course). Woods was effective with limited looks last year around the goal line for Indianapolis.