Fantasy Football: Jonathan Taylor Is a Potential League Winner
My inclination, when sitting down to write this article, was to compare Indianapolis Colts rookie running back Jonathan Taylor to Nick Chubb. In other words, a rookie, who may not sit atop the depth chart initially, but could absolutely win leagues when given the opportunity. Upon reflection, I realized this to be unfair. Chubb is nowhere near the same caliber of prospect as Taylor.
For no reason, in particular, take a look at Taylor's Player Profiler page. If you indulged me, you saw an elite producer, with elite speed, and better receiving skills than you may have initially believed.
That said, Taylor's credentials have been widely touted, and I'm no exemption. If you haven't seen the light, that likely won't change. What you're about to read won't dwell on the former-Badger's ability other than to say he's an elite prospect who won't be held back for long. Rather, it will be an exploration of what exactly Taylor can do in 2020, which is quite a lot.
Can Jonathan Taylor Catch?
Admittedly, the aforementioned Nick Chubb reference point, was hyperbolic. Comparing a proven producer and outlier like Chubb, to a rookie is never an apples-to-apples comparison. That said, Taylor possesses skills that Chubb doesn't. Taylor is both more productive and faster than Chubb, but most importantly, Taylor was a prolific pass-catcher in college. Though he's often not credited as such, Taylor achieved a target share over 10% at Wisconsin, and though that's an accomplishment, even that number belies Taylor's potential. According to Graham Barfield of Fantasy Points, Taylor was targeted on 33% of routes he ran, the highest rate he's scouted.
That's significant, not only in terms of Taylor's eventual upside, but in the potential role he can carve out in 2020. Any receiving work Taylor can take from Nyheim Hines only serves to reduce the split and increase his usage. If Taylor splits early-down work with Marlon Mack and cedes receiving work to Hines, he's unlikely to be a monster fantasy producer, but if he proves to be a viable receiving back, he can being to approach the 50% (or even 60%) threshold necessary for high-end fantasy production. In terms of receiving production, we currently project Hines for 38 targets, Taylor for 31, and Mack for 17. Not the ideal split for Taylor, but certainly a start.
The Offensive Line
The Indianapolis offensive line is the tide that lifts all ships. Mack and Hines both posted 0.06 Rushing NEP (Net Expected Points) per carry, well above the league average of -0.01 Rushing NEP per carry. Ostensibly, that might make it seem like Taylor will have difficulty beating out the incumbents. However, pedestrian talents such as Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams posted 0.21 and 0.13 Rushing NEP per carry, respectively.
Mack is a good prospect, but Taylor is a great one. Mack's accomplishments in this offense flood the mind with images of the heights Taylor can achieve.
What's the Upside?
Taylor's true ceiling is unlikely to be unlocked with Mack still on the roster. Though I raised memories of Chubb's rookie season, a trade is inherently unlikely to happen and never to be relied upon. That said, Taylor can still climb the fantasy ladder even with Mack accompanying him on the roster.
The Colts offensive line, run-heavy nature, and Taylor's own propensity for breaking off long runs will ensure he has the efficiency to boost even a modest workload. Not to mention the arrival of Philip Rivers lifts the offense as a whole.
In total, we project Taylor for 979 yards and 8.6 touchdowns on 230 carries to go along with the aforementioned 31 targets producing 24 catches, 196 yards, and 1.3 touchdowns. That brings him to RB17. Not a projection to be taken lightly, but one very much within reach, and possibly even within Taylor's grasp to well exceed.
Draft Jonathan Taylor
Bestball10's July ADP puts Taylor at 32nd overall and the RB18 off draft boards. That's a slight value according to projections, and Taylor has upside beyond that. Many will desire to wait a year on Taylor, and he'll be a good bet in 2021. That doesn't mean he can't also be a value in 2020. Instead, be a year early on one of the best running back talents of this decade. Go get him, but proceed with this caveat: Taylor may not produce fully in the early season.
This makes Taylor most ideal for teams who already possess a quality running back or two. Teams going running back heavy in early-round may find Taylor to be an excellent third back. One who can be mitigated in the early season and help carry your team to a title run in the late season.
Account for that, but don't let it dissuade you from drafting one of the most glaringly obvious breakout candidates fantasy football has offered in years.