Why Jonathan Taylor Will Help You Win Your League (Fantasy Football)
Not everything about fantasy football needs to be complicated. One thing we know for sure: securing an RB1 gives you the best odds at making the fantasy playoffs, which is the only way you get the chance to win a #FootClanTitle. They’re also not easy to come by, the current average draft position (ADP) has eight going off the board in the first round.
The good news is, they can be found outside of the first round. Last year Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry were being drafted in the third and fourth round and finished as the RB2 and RB3 respectively. You can also find an RB1 in a rookie. Over the past five seasons, ten rookies have finished the season as a top-12 fantasy back, which is even more impressive when you consider that no rookie accomplished that feat in 2019.
But in 2020, I believe Jonathan Taylor can.
Taylor is a special talent, one of the most productive college running backs of all time. If you didn’t see the predraft article on him I wrote back in March, I highly recommend you check it out. I won’t rehash that entire article here, but let’s just say he’s showed enough in college and at the combine for us to know he has what it takes to be a great NFL running back.
The biggest ding Taylor seems to be getting is that he doesn’t catch passes. I would amend that statement and suggest he hasn’t caught many passes yet. Wisconsin didn’t utilize him as a pass-catcher, as they rarely do with their lead backs. Take a look at the receiving production for the Badgers lead backs going back nearly a decade.[lptw_table id=”164252″ style=”default”]
All the backs prior to Taylor saw their receiving production increase when they made it to the pros and turned into excellent pass-catching options at the NFL level. I’m definitely not a film grinder, but I’ve seen enough to believe Taylor can be an adequate pass-catcher that won’t need to be taken off the field in passing situations. See for yourself below.
The Colts, much like Taylor’s Wisconsin teams, are built to win on the ground. Their offensive line is recognized as one of the top units in the NFL, ranked in the top four by both Pro Football Focus and The Huddle. They aren’t going to depend on a 38-year-old Philip Rivers to chuck the ball all over the field. In fact, Rivers is more likely to involve running backs in the passing game, he’s averaged 150 targets per season to running backs over the past three years. That’s more than enough to give multiple Colts running backs a receiving boost, including Taylor.
Indianapolis’s schedule even sets up nicely for Taylor. They start the season off against Jacksonville, who has a depleted defense and is sporting the lowest projected win total on the season by the experts in Vegas. That game should yield a positive game script and afford Taylor an opportunity to show off his superior skill set. The schedule remains favorable as Indy has, based on Vegas win totals, the easiest strength of schedule for the entire season.
Chart via Sharp Football Analysis
While there aren’t any guarantees in the NFL, this at least tells us that the Colts should be leading more than their trailing. Teams with a lead tend to run more, especially when they have a stout offensive line, a stud running back, an aging quarterback, and an ambiguous receiving corps.
Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the elephant in the room: Marlon Mack is still on the Colts. Head coach Frank Reich has touted the Mack and Taylor combo as a “1-1 punch” and has referenced the “inherent respect” for a returning starter. That should be expected; not many coaches are going to risk crushing a player’s morale by publicly benching him for a rookie before training camp has even started.
Most NFL teams employ at least somewhat of a running-back-by-committee approach. Mack and Taylor (and Nyheim Hines) will share the backfield to some degree. That doesn’t preclude Taylor from finishing as a league-winning back. In fact, despite the narrative of Taylor’s career at Wisconsin, he was accustomed to sharing a backfield in college. He only accounted for 59.8% of his team’s non-quarterback carries during his final college season, his career-high. He was still able to post historic numbers because the Badgers ran the ball A LOT, something the Colts could mimic in 2020.
The individual comparison between Mack and Taylor really isn’t close. Taylor easily tops Mack in every athletic measurable. He has more college production and higher draft capital than Mack. The only thing Mack has going for him is his three years of experience on the team. At some point in the season, Taylor is bound to take over the lion’s share of the backfield work.
Why He Can be a League Winner
Taylor doesn’t qualify as a “sleeper” or a “late-round” pick. As of this writing, he’s sitting as RB22 at the end of the third round, pick 36 overall. That’s in the same range as Jones and Henry that I mentioned earlier. It would be absurd to expect Taylor to finish his rookie season as a top-three fantasy running back, but top-12 is well within his range of outcomes. Finding an RB1 in the third round will give your team a huge advantage over the rest of your league, especially if you hit on your easier to project picks in the first two rounds.
Best of all, even if Taylor isn’t awarded a large role in the backfield early in the season, he should only gain momentum and capture more touches as the year progresses, reaching his ultimate value in the fantasy playoffs. Taylor’s combination of talent and opportunity is the perfect fantasy recipe for league winning upside in 2020.