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The Colts Running Backs - Jonathan Taylor vs Jordan Wilkins

Entering Week 8, there was still some fantasy hope for Jonathan Taylor. Many fantasy players were patient with him for much of the first half of the season, figuring the best was still yet to come.

Other than a 101-yard outing in Week 2, though, Taylor had simply not shown a lot of upside as a rusher. In his five other games played before last Sunday, he had failed to rush for 70 yards. He did catch six passes for 67 yards in the season opener, and a 115-yard outing from scrimmage in Week 7 did renew some optimism despite the mostly tepid rushing totals. But overall, as indicated in the video below, Taylor was raising some significant concerns about his play.


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Taylor Loses His Grip on the Lead RB Role

Then the bottom completely dropped out against the Detroit Lions, who entered Week 9 allowing the second-most Fantasy Points Per Game to opposing running backs. Taylor trudged to 22 yards on 11 carries and was pinned to the bench by Frank Reich for much of the second half. As noted by the Indianapolis Star, Taylor’s 31 yards from scrimmage were his lowest in both his pro and college years at Wisconsin combined. Those who rostered Taylor, especially with him active in Week 8, reacted with great disappointment, bemoaning wasting a higher fantasy draft choice on him. On social media, those who had followed the Colts for some time conjured up Trent Richardson comparisons.

Mentioning him in the same sentence with the biggest bust in recent Indianapolis lore is obviously a bit much, but Taylor has destroyed a lot of the lingering confidence anyone had in him entering last week. His 3.9 yards per carry is actually making him look better than he truly has performed a lot of the time. He runs tentatively, with no real authority or burst, and rarely gets past the second level of defenders. He makes questionable decisions in the flow of the game and doesn't anticipate the best avenues to take as a runner.

Of course, there are a few fantasy second-guessers who worry that if they bench him this week, he will suddenly break out. Until he shows some real glimpses of promise, you cannot consider starting him at all right now based on an insecure “what if” scenario. While it’s not impossible for Taylor to bounce back in the very short term, the odds seem very long against it. Starting Taylor out of anything but desperation in Week 9 is not sensible.


The Switch to Wilkins

Looking for a spark on Sunday, the Colts turned the second half lead-ball-carrier-duties over to fourth-year man Jordan Wilkins, a staple backup who had disappointed in the past when given the opportunities to show what he could do with an expanded workload. The move worked out ideally, as Wilkins rushed for 89 yards on a total of 20 carries, doing his best work in the fourth quarter, when he had 51 yards on eight carries and a TD. His scoring run came from one yard out in the fourth quarter, as he found the end zone shortly after Taylor was easily stuffed in his attempt to score.

On a side note, Nyheim Hines caught two TD passes, further infuriating those who rostered Taylor. The Indianapolis Star had illustrated the stark contrast between Taylor and Wilkins, citing the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Entering Week 8, Taylor had lost 22 yards more than expected on his carries, and only one player in the NFL was worse. Wilkins provided 10 more yards than expected.

"There were a couple of runs where you could just see his vision and balance in the hole, that it was just there," Reich said of Wilkins via The Star. "He had the right feel. he had two cut-back runs that were really effective. He was doing those little things.”

So what was Reich’s outlook on how he would deploy his RBs going forward after the 20-point win over Detroit?

“Sometimes, it’s a question of Jordan just getting the hot hand,” Reich told The Star.  “Things didn’t come up maybe right for Jonathan. We will evaluate it. We want to continue to use all three of those running backs however it plays out.”

The Colts certainly will not give up on Taylor this early, and one impressive outing by no means signals that Wilkins has a firm grip on the lead role. As noted by 107.5 The Fan in Indianapolis, Wilkins has performed better as a backup than a starter so far in his career. In four career starts, Wilkins has 80 yards on 34 carries. Working as a reserve, he has totaled 653 yards on 110 attempts.

Wilkins has earned a possible start in Week 9. But as Wilkins’ numbers indicate, some RBs do not fare as well when they go from relief to starting duty. When a defense has time to prepare for an opposing RB, they are often more ready to defend him effectively. Opportunity does not always lead to production for less heralded players. Plus, the Colts face the Ravens this week. Baltimore is third-best in allowing FFPG to RBs.


Attempting to Clear Up the Colts RB Picture

Reich obviously has not committed to a true No. 1 RB yet. Wilkins must build on last week’s performance, and the team wants Taylor to start showing more of his promise. If he can break out of his current funk, the Colts would certainly be open to expanding Taylor’s role again. This is a situation that could not only change from game to game, but from quarter to quarter, and possession to possession on offense. Hines is a satellite back, but further complicates the picture, as he has four TDs from scrimmage.

The ideal approach to the Colts backfield right now is to roster Wilkins if you can, in case he can sustain some momentum, while keeping Taylor reserved. Wilkins is still widely available as a free agent in many leagues, as he is rostered on just 25 percent of teams on FleaFlicker. If you need a deeper RB plugger for Week 9, he is worth an add.

The situation is largely unpredictable right now, though, as it will have to be decided on the field, moment to moment. There is certainly no “Rest of the Season” answer here. Taylor definitely remains the long-term choice for the Colts, but heading into Week 9, Wilkins has the clear edge on potential workload. Yet he could lose his grip on the role at any time. He is simply the flavor of the moment, as the cliché goes. An eventual full-blown committee is possible as well, with Wilkins, Taylor and Hines all sharing touches.

In seasonal leagues, you will have to wait and see if Wilkins can continue to earn and hold onto his currently shaky spot as a possible lead RB. And at the same time, you will have to keep Taylor reserved while hoping for signs of life. In keeper and dynasty leagues, though, it is a good time to swoop in and see if you can pry Taylor away from an anxious fantasy player who is rostering him.

This is not a backfield to completely avoid. But you will have to approach it patiently. If you have to start one player from this backfield for this week, obviously go with Wilkins. You will have to check back in on RotoBaller’s player news feed to continually monitor the situation as you remain nimble, flexible and open to a potentially ever-changing outlook in the near future.

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