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Jonathan Taylor - Fantasy Football Rookie Spotlight

The Indianapolis Colts shook the fantasy football world in the 2020 NFL Draft when they moved up three spots to 41 overall in the second-round to select three-time All-American Wisconsin Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor. The team gave up picks 44 and 160 to the Cleveland Browns to make the move, which acts as a strong statement from the team that they are going to run the ball early and often. In fact, Taylor is the first running back that general manager Chris Ballard has ever selected earlier than the fourth-round, emphasizing the team's desire for a premier talent in the backfield. When Indy declared its motto "run the damn ball" last year, they weren't kidding.

In addition to the Colts' happiness with their selection of Taylor, fantasy football analysts and owners were elated with his landing spot. Now that Andrew Luck is retired and the quarterback of the future is up in the air, Indy should rank in the top-10 for rush attempts over the next few years. What better RB prospect is there to carry this team on his back than Taylor? He has the prototypical frame of a workhorse running back, generational speed for his size, and elite vision in the open field. His career is going to be an exciting one to watch. So what can we expect from Jonathan Taylor in year one and beyond? Let's dive in.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Profile

Team: Indianapolis Colts
College: Wisconsin
Height/Weight/40-yard dash: 5'10”, 226 lbs, 4.39 seconds (98th percentile)
NFL Draft Selection: Round 2, Pick 9

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com

 

FBS Legend

Jonathan Taylor is without a doubt one of the greatest college football running backs of all time. Over his career as a Badger, he averaged 2,058 yards per season and over 1,200 yards after contact (1,257 in 2019). To put that into perspective, he averaged more yards after contact than fellow rookie running backs Cam Akers (1,144 rush yards) and D'Andre Swift (1,218 rush yards) rushed for on the entire season in 2019.

He is the only running back in FBS history to rush for at least 1,900 yards in three straight seasons, and he holds the record for most rushing yards in a three-year span in FBS history (6,174), demolishing the previous record of 5,596 held by all-time great Herschel Walker.

In his freshman year, Taylor opened the season as a co-starter with two other running backs. In his first game, he took nine carries for 87 yards and a touchdown, and in his second game ever, he blew the doors off the stadium with 223 yards and three touchdowns. From that moment on, Taylor never looked back.

He finished the season with 1,977 yards on the ground (6.6 YPC), an all-time record for an FBS freshman, and was a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award which goes to the nation's best running back. In his sophomore season, Taylor led the FBS with 2,194 rush yards (7.1 YPC) and 307 attempts, and rushed for 16 touchdowns. He was voted as a unanimous first-team All-American, named the Big Ten Running Back of the Year, and was awarded the Doak Walker Award.

Entering his junior season, Taylor was widely regarded as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, and he took advantage of being on center stage. He improved his game in every facet as he rushed for 2,003 yards on 320 attempts, and he scored a staggering 21 touchdowns. He also put the football world on notice that he can be an extremely effective receiver out of the backfield. After catching only eight passes in each of his first two seasons, Taylor caught 26 passes for 252 yards and another five touchdowns. His 26 combined touchdowns led the nation.

By the end of the season, Taylor became only the third player ever to have two 2,000-yard seasons, and he took home the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and the Doak Walker awards for the second straight year. By the end of his third season, the Badger bruiser had amassed 926 carries and never missed any time due to injury. Incredible.

When his college career came to an end after his junior year, Taylor was sixth all-time in the FBS in rushing yards and second all-time in the Big Ten. In fact, out of the top-16 rushers in FBS history, only Jonathan Taylor played three seasons, everyone else played all four. Also on Taylor's resume is 55 total touchdowns, 12 games with 200 yards or more, 32 games of 100 yards or more, and a career average of 6.7 yards per carry, second to only Melvin Gordon (7.8 YPC) in school history. It was a legendary college career and part two of Jonathan Taylor's story should be even better.

FBS All-Time Records Held By Jonathan Taylor:

Rushing yards by a freshman: 1,977
Fewest games for freshman to reach 1,000 yards: 7 (tied with 6 others)
Rushing yards by a sophomore: 2,194
Rushing yards by a player through his sophomore season: 4,171
Rushing yards by a player through his junior season: 6,174
Rushing yards in any two-year span: 4,197
Rushing yards in any three-year span: 6,174
Most games with 200 yards or more: 12

 

Scouting Report

Jonathan Taylor is everything that an NFL team could want in a running back. As if his stellar college career wasn't enough to impress NFL scouts, he put on quite a performance at the NFL combine. Taylor ran a blazing 4.39-second 40-yard dash (first of all RBs), jumped for an impressive 36.0 inch vertical (sixth of all RBs drafted), and leaped 123 inches in the broad jump (tied for third of all RBs drafted).

Chart from playerprofiler.com

According to playerprofiler.com, his 4.39 40-yard dash time is in the 98th percentile at the position and his speed score of 121.7 is in the 99th percentile. Speed score is a measurement that factors a player's 40-yard dash time with their weight and assigns a premium to larger players. Playerprofiler.com has determined that "any number over 110.0 is considered extraordinary for a running back."

For comparison's sake, Saquon Barkley's speed score is 124.3 (99th percentile) and Ezekiel Elliott's speed score is 112.7 (94th percentile), and when assessed against his fellow big-named rookies, D'Andre Swift (105.3), Cam Akers (108.7), and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (92.5) pale in comparison (J.K. Dobbins did not run the 40-yard dash). In the rest of the drills, Taylor put up 17 repetitions in the 225 lb bench press, ran the three-cone drill in 7.01 seconds, and the 20-yard shuttle drill in 4.24 seconds. Watch Taylor's entire combine performance below:

We can see that Taylor is an elite running back prospect from an athleticism standpoint, but what kind of runner is he on the field? In short, he has all the tools that make up a superstar running back in the NFL and very few weaknesses, all of which are coachable. The first thing that jumps out when scouting Taylor is his home run speed. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, which is not surprising since he also ran track and field relay races for Wisconsin.

Also, when it comes to efficiency running the football, Taylor is the cream of the crop. He possesses excellent patience to let his blocks develop, and he has elite burst to hit the hole at the perfect moment, routinely leaving defenders inches away from making the play. He does not dance around the line of scrimmage which risks a loss of yardage, and his footwork is swift and deliberate, rarely making unnecessary moves.

Taylor is also extremely difficult to bring down in the open field. He possesses elite lateral agility which makes him able to jump-cut left or right at just the right moment to avoid the tackle, and even against stacked boxes, he has tremendous wiggle to shed or break through arm tackles and he bounces off defenders who try to tackle him low.

His explosive burst from a stopped position and sharp lateral quickness allows him to juke defenders at the line of scrimmage and bounce runs outside better than anyone in this class. Once he hits the second level of the defense, his elite field vision kicks in, as he is able to able to scan both sides of the field and make the right cuts at the right time to avoid incoming cornerbacks and safeties.

His incredible change of direction skills allow him to plant and cut on a dime without sacrificing speed, and he effortlessly finds and hits the cutback lane on zone runs. Taylor also excels in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He runs with incredible determination and leg drive and has the power to get to the goal-line and extend the ball when you thought he was going to be stopped short.

Take a look at this run against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship because it showcases every skill set that Taylor has a runner.

When he gets the ball behind the line of scrimmage he runs at a slowed pace until the hole opens, and then he bursts through to the second level of the defense. Waiting for Taylor is the middle linebacker who wraps his arms around the Doak Walker winner, but Taylor is running with so much power that he runs right through the linebacker and pushes him off  like a child. As soon as he shakes the linebacker off, he immediately notices the defensive back to his left and is able to instantaneously plant his left leg, twist his body to avoid being grabbed by the defender, and cut upfield at almost a 90-degree angle.

Once he is free from the defensive back on the left, he notices the incoming linebacker closing in from the right and executes a perfectly timed and placed stiff-arm while continuing upfield at the same speed. Now, Taylor is in the third level of the defense and he sees the left cornerback closing in. If he continues upfield and tries to out-run the cornerback he will be tackled almost immediately because the cornerback had the perfect angle on him.

Instead, Taylor processes this instantly, plants his right leg, and makes a lateral cut to the outside without losing speed which completely turns around the cornerback in the process. He then proceeds to run up the sideline and picks up an additional 30 yards. While this run is not a touchdown run, it is one of the most beautiful runs you will ever see, and it showcases everything that makes Jonathan Taylor a superstar in the making.

Aside from being an incredible pure runner, Taylor added route-running and receiving to his repertoire this season. While his route tree is limited, he was very successful running slant routes, out routes, and wheel routes, and he showed sticky hands. This is definitely an area where he can improve in the NFL, and it will be critical for him to do so if he going to be a three-down workhorse in a modern professional offense. Taylor will also need to improve his skills as a pass protector if he wants to stay on the field on third downs. He has the power necessary to hold off incoming pass rushers, but he has poor technique and misreads his assignment more than he should.

He also needs significant improvement in ball security as evidenced by his 18 career fumbles, 15 of which were lost. His ball security was probably the reason that he was not a first round pick because prospects like Taylor don't come around very often. Fortunately for Taylor, the Colts, and fantasy owners, all of his weaknesses in ball security and pass protection are coachable.

Tiki Barber, former running back for the New York Giants, is the prime example of this. Between 2000 and 2003, Barber had 35 fumbles, and in the offseason, he and head coach Tom Coughlin changed his technique for holding the ball high and tight against his chest. Over his next three seasons, Barber only fumbled the ball a total of nine times and not coincidentally had his most productive seasons. With Taylor's work ethic and passion for the game, there should be no doubt that he is going to clean up his flaws.

 

2020 Fantasy Outlook

Despite landing in one of the best possible destinations for fantasy football, Taylor is not going to be the superstar that we expect him to be in year one. Marlon Mack is in the last year of his rookie deal and Nyheim Hines showed last season that he is deserving of plenty of work in the passing game. Both of the current running backs are going to get meaningful touches in this offense, and Taylor will just make things murkier. That being said, he and Mack could both be viable starters in fantasy this season.

In 2019, the Colts made running the football the identity of their offense. They finished 10th in the league in yards per carry (4.5), 5th in rush yards per game (133.1), 5th in attempts (471), 5th in percentage of run plays (46.4%), tied for 5th in runs of 20 yards or more (14), 4th in rushes per game (29.4),  and 2nd in rushing first downs per game (8.2). Most of this was made possible by their elite offensive line which was ranked 3rd by Pro Football Focus. All five starters played all 16 games for the Colts, which has not happened since 2000, and all five starters are returning.

The group is led by first-team All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson who is Pro Football Focus' top-rated run-blocking guard for two years straight, and a goal of theirs should be to improve on their ranking of 12th best in run-blocking according to Footballoutsiders.com. Marlon Mack ran behind this line for 1,091 yards (10th) and eight touchdowns in 14 games, and he was 3rd in the league in runs of 15 yards or more (13). With that kind of production, Mack is going to get touches in 2020, though his total touches should be significantly scaled back. In fact, his usage decreased significantly over the Colts' last seven games.

Nyheim Hines also made an impact last year with 44 receptions on 58 targets, but the addition of Phillip Rivers should make that number skyrocket. Rivers is at the stage of his career where he has to take what the defense gives him and when the throw is not there he checks down to the running back. Rivers threw 182 passes to the running back position in 2019, double the Colts number of 91, and while that number should come down a bit behind a stellar offensive line, he should be near the top of the league in running back targets once again.

So let's project for a minute. If the Colts run the ball 450 times, that's 28.1 carries per game. Add on another 150 targets to the running backs because of Phillip Rivers and that's 9.3 targets per game. A reasonable workload for Mack, given his last seven games, is 15 carries per game with Hines seeing six targets per game, which leaves 13 carries and 3.3 targets per game for Taylor. Over 16 games, our projection leaves Taylor with 208 carries and 52.8 targets. If we give Taylor a reasonable efficiency of 4.7 yards per carry he would finish with 977 yards. What this tells us is that the Colts could have two 1,000 yard rushers this season and Taylor could be a viable RB2 for your fantasy team.

Sounds good right? Wrong. Currently, Taylor is going as RB17 in ADP, roughly three rounds earlier than Mack. There simply is not enough work for Taylor to return any value on that ADP unless there is an injury to Mack, and injuries can not be predicted.

The first-team All-American is being drafted ahead of Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, David Montgomery, and David Johnson, all of whom have no competition for carries. Given the type of prospect that Taylor is and the backfield that he landed in, there is a ton of hype surrounding him in the fantasy community, but there comes a point where the hype has gone too far and the player is no longer a value, and we have reached that point with Taylor. It is a much smarter move to let someone else draft Taylor in the third-round of fantasy drafts and then snag Marlon Mack three or four rounds later, who could put up similar, if not better numbers in 2020.

Other running backs going around Mack in ADP are Derrius Guice, Kerryon Johnson, and Ronald Jones, so ask yourself if you would rather have Jonathan Taylor and Kerryon Johnson on your fantasy team or Le'Veon Bell and Marlon Mack. The choice should be pretty simple. Hint: it's Bell and Mack.

Keep in mind that this advice pertains exclusively to redraft fantasy leagues, whereas in dynasty fantasy leagues Jonathan Taylor is one of the safest picks you can make. Dynasty fantasy leagues are like real-life NFL teams. Your team remains the same for the entire career of the players unless you cut them or trade them. Because of this, there is a premium on younger players in dynasty leagues, especially younger players that should have a featured role for the foreseeable future.

For example, in redraft leagues, Julio Jones should be drafted ahead of JuJu Smith-Schuster 10 out of 10 times, but in dynasty leagues, Smith-Schuster should go before Jones 10 out of 10 times because he is 23 years old and should be in the league for at least another decade, whereas Jones is 31 and could be retired within five years.

In the case of Jonathan Taylor, dynasty owners should be looking three to four years down the road, not just in 2020, and starting as soon as 2021 Taylor could be among the best featured running backs in the league. Marlon Mack is in a contract year this season and if he goes out and has a great year, he is going to want to get paid, which sets up a scenario where the Colts let him walk. If that happens, the Colts' backfield and everything that comes with it is Taylor's, and he is likely to be a perennial first-round pick in redraft leagues.  For these reasons, Taylor is an elite dynasty asset and is worthy of the first overall pick in rookie drafts.

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It's already Week 4, and there's a lot of injuries to work through, but as always we're here to help you set some winning lineups. Below you'll find our Week 4 fantasy football half-PPR rankings for fantasy football, as of September 27th. Our goal as always is to help you set those winning lineups, so... Read More


Week 4 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2022 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

Before we dive into the rankings, I want to talk quickly about overreacting and process. We're still early enough in the fantasy football season that I want to caution people against overreacting to the final total fantasy points scored and advocate for sticking to our process, even if the results aren't 100% what we want... Read More


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IDP Leagues Waiver Wire Pickups for Fantasy Football: Week 4 -- Jevon Holland, Eddie Jackson, and more

We’re three weeks into the season, and the Broncos are tied with Kansas City as the best team in the AFC West. The Jaguars are the best team in the South, the Browns, without Deshaun, are tied for the lead in the North, and the Dolphins defeated the Bills to take the undisputed lead in... Read More


Marcus Mariota - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

DraftKings NFL DFS: Week 4 Price Analysis & Picks

Hey, RotoBallers! It's Jon Anderson back for another "primer" for the Sunday NFL slate. I hope this helped last week and will continue to help throughout the year. It should be used as just a way to start the week. I'm no NFL DFS expert by any means, so I'm trying my best to just... Read More


Rashaad Penny - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

The Cut List – Who to Drop for Week 4?

We've all heard the, "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" statement, but no fantasy football roster is ever perfect. Fantasy managers should constantly be tinkering with the bottom of their roster. Don't be afraid of making moves and part of that is figuring out who is cuttable. All of these start/sit and who to... Read More


Samaje Perine - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Week 4 Waiver Wire Rankings - Fantasy Football Pickups Include Alexander Mattison, Michael Gallup, Romeo Doubs, Samaje Perine

Welcome to Week 4 RotoBallers, and another round of waiver wire pickups! We have seen new injuries emerge for fantasy football, and players who may be breaking out. As you consider who to pickup for your rosters, as always we're here to help you sift through it. Each week our NFL team puts out a... Read More


Michael Gallup - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Waiver Wire Express - Week 4 Lightning Round Including Alexander Mattison, Greg Dortch, Michael Gallup, Trevor Lawrence

We're gathered here to react to Week 3 and start looking forward to Week 4 with a broad overview. Sunday brought plenty of injuries, with key names such as Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, David Montgomery, Garrett Wilson, Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Mac Jones exiting. We'll see how those situations shake out through... Read More


Week 4 Waiver Wire Pickups and Free Agent Adds - All Positions

If you thought the waiver wire outlook for running backs was bad last week, don't bother looking this week. There are plenty of intriguing options at wide receiver, however, and some help to be found for those looking to stream QB and TE. Below, you will find the top waiver wire options at each position... Read More


Romeo Doubs - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

FAAB Waiver Wire Bidding - Fantasy Football Pickups to Target for Week 4

Week 3 brought more injury fallout than the first two weeks, but the waiver wire still feels relatively dry compared to previous seasons. Of course, that doesn't stop our mission of improving as best we can with the resources available. Nothing is guaranteed and now comes the time when end-of-bench stashes from the draft must... Read More


George Pickens - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Deeper-League Waiver Wire Adds for Week 4: Samaje Perine, DeVante Parker, Laviska Shenault, George Pickens, Craig Reynolds

The first three weeks of the NFL's regular season are behind us, but it's never time to stop searching for deep league stashes for short or long-term upside. These fantasy football waiver wire pickup suggestions are geared toward leagues with deep benches or 14-plus teams, so obvious handcuffs and early-season breakouts such as Jahan Dotson,... Read More


Justin Tucker - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Kickers

Week 4 Kicker Streamers and Starts - 2022 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

We're through three weeks of the NFL season, but we'll never get to a place where we can ignore the streamer game at the kicker position in fantasy football. Even though we have three games of data for each team, kicker projections are very elastic week-to-week and it's too early to draw definitive conclusions.  Things... Read More


russell wilson fantasy football rankings NFL injury news DFS picks

Can Russell Wilson Still Cook?

In a 2022 free agency that witnessed many a splash trades; Russell Wilson was perhaps the pinnacle. Wilson was the proclaimed savior to a Denver Broncos team that was ‘only missing a quality quarterback to take it to the next level’. Wilson was finally saved from a stifling Seattle Seahawks offense that did not allow... Read More


Trevor Lawrence - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Getting Dubs In Duval: Analyzing The Jaguars In Fantasy Football Going Forward

The Jacksonville Jaguars might be good. Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are, but after beating the Chargers 38-10, the Jaguars look dangerous. The team has scored 22 or more points in each of its games this season, which is notable since in 17 games last season, the team hit that mark just twice. And... Read More


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Draft Room 101: Keys to Building a Contending Roster

Ask anybody that plays a fantasy sport what the best part of the season really is, and most of them will say it's the draft itself. Almost all of us know why too. Not unlike when you were a kid and got to be a captain for dodgeball on the playground, picking your own team... Read More


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Enough Already: Third-year Players To Give Up On In Fantasy Basketball

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