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Zack Moss is proving that running backs are replaceable

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Moss has been one of the most utilized running backs in the NFL this season. Through two starts, Moss has averaged 24 touches per game, which puts him amongst the top 3 in the NFL, with the likes of Tony Pollard and Christian McCaffrey. His yards per touch number sits at 4.7, which is ahead of Pollard, Derrick Henry, Rhamondre Stevenson, Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders. He is also averaging more rushing attempts per game than any other NFL running back. His rushing success rate sits more towards the middle of the pack, but above many of the elite NFL running backs. Moss is a hard runner who has performed well to start the season, and it shows that running backs are replaceable.

Financial Value

Zack Moss’ cap hit is just under 1.2M for the 2023 season. That means through 2 weeks of play, Moss is averaging about $448 per 1 yard from scrimmage ($141,176 cap hit for two weeks divided by 315 scrimmage yards). If a player were making $10M, to achieve $448 per 1 yard from scrimmage, he would need to have 2614 yards from scrimmage in two games. Under Jonathan Taylor’s current contract, he is projected to have a $5.1M cap hit this season (if he actually plays). For him to achieve $448 per 1 yard from scrimmage, he would need to achieve 1337 scrimmage yards through two weeks. These are clearly unattainable numbers, so despite the excellence you would receive from Taylor, there’s no world where he would be better value than Zack Moss.

The more Moss plays, the less valuable Taylor becomes

This might be more of a prediction, but Jonathan Taylor is losing leverage and value the more Zack Moss plays. Moss is playing at a very similar level to what Taylor would be playing at, but will he keep it up? The answer is probably not, but even if he loses half a yard per touch, he’s still a very good option that the Colts can rely on.

Zack Moss has also been performing well without having an above average offensive line. The Colts rank 26th in the NFL in terms of adjusted line yards on offense. Adjusted line yards is described as a “metric that measures the push an offensive line gets vs. a defensive line from the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, this metric can help measure the impact of a good or bad offensive line will have on the ground game in any week.” If a running back is performing at a high level with an offensive line that is low in these categories, it shows that he is performing extremely well since he is gaining yards despite not getting great push and /or hole openings.

As mentioned before, Moss probably won’t keep up this rate of play, but even if he’s close, Taylor’s value will continue to go down since they have Zack Moss doing close to what Taylor would be doing. At the moment, Moss is on pace for over 2000 yards from scrimmage, despite missing a game. Last season, Taylor was on pace for 1550 yards (1004 in 11 games) from scrimmage, but did achieve 2171 in 2021.

Say Moss’ pace dips to around 1500 yards from scrimmage and say Jonathan Taylor returns in Week 6 and comes in with a pace of 1850 (the median between 2021 and 2022). If both of them are at those paces, from Week 6 to 18, Taylor would add around 225 yards to the offense. The Colts are on pace for 5440 yards of offense, so 225 yards accounts for 4% more or 18 extra yards a game. Is 18 extra yards a game from Week 6 to 18 worth 4M dollars? Definitely not and that’s assuming Moss has a drop off.

Rookies excelling in the NFL

Bijan Robinson, Devon Achane, Jahmyr Gibbs, Zach Charbonnet... these are all running backs that have either dominated or performed super well this season. Robinson is an incredibly skilled and high level talent, so those type of guys don’t come around often, but the other 3 serve as reminders that running backs have had and will always continue to have immediate impacts in the league since running back is the easiest position to transition to in the NFL.

In 2022, we saw the likes of Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce, Tyler Allgeier, Rachaad White, Brian Robinson, Isiah Pacheco have serious impacts.

In 2021, it was Rhamondre Stevenson, Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams and Elijah Mitchell.

There are countless examples every year and it shows you there is always running back talent coming up and with rookie contracts being so cheap, rookies will always be the best option for teams.

The big question

Would you rather Zack Moss at $1.16M or Jonathan Taylor at $5.1M with a $10M+ per year contract waiting in the wings in the following years?