Colts Jonathan Taylor is the team’s most vital player
By: Jason Ferris
When the Indianapolis Colts traded away their third round draft pick in 2021, and a conditional second-round pick in 2022, to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Carson Wentz, the move was big news around the league. The retirement of previous starting quarterback Phillip Rivers, along with the departure of backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, created an immediate need at the quarterback position. Combine that with the necessary divorce that followed an ugly year in Philadelphia, and Wentz happily packed his bags for Indianapolis.
The move made total economic sense with the Colts inheriting a very quarterback-friendly contract. The Colts will pay Wentz $20 million in 2021 while the Eagles will absorb a $33.8 million dollar dead cap hit for Wentz next year, the highest hit in NFL history. The deal nets the Colts an already established NFL quarterback on a team that is built to win now. Wentz, still only 28 years old, may still have some high-level quarterback play in him. But regardless of how much gas is left in Wentz’s tank, the Colts’ 2021 hopes will rest with the legs or running back Jonathan Taylor, not on the arm of the jettisoned quarterback.
Taylor’s rookie season with the Colts was a huge success. The second-round pick out of Wisconsin did not take long to establish himself as the RB1 in Indianapolis and after that, it was off to the races. In 15 games as a rookie, Taylor started 13 games. He carried the ball 232 times for 1169 yards and 11 touchdowns. Only Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings put up more yards on the ground than Taylor. In fact, Taylor’s yards/touch (5,5) was slightly better than both Henry (5.4) and Cook (5.4).
Delving deeper, Taylor had 268 touches for 1,448 total yards from scrimmage. His 12 touchdowns were good for T-4th in the league. He also led the Colts with 15 broken tackles and 479 yards after the catch. But perhaps the most impressive facet of Taylor’s year was his workload. Because of the Colts’ hesitation to immediately insert Taylor as the bell cow back, his usage early on in the season was sparse. In total, Taylor lined up for 511 (47%) of the Colts’ offensive snaps while elite counterparts Henry and Cook lined up for 66% and 62% of their teams’ snaps respectively. Despite the large discrepancy in playing time, Taylor was still amongst the league leaders.
The notion that Taylor is due to see his workload next season increase is not in doubt. As 2020 wore on, head coach Frank Reich began to value Taylor’s contribution more and more. By the last four games of the season, Taylor’s snap counts were 56%, 69%, 58%, and 82%. In the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, Taylor was on the field for 59% of his teams’ offensive snaps. Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni began customizing plays for Taylor’s skill set and by season’s end, the Colts ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts and 14th in yards/attempt. Those statistics look to only get better as Taylor’s role continues to increase.
With Phillip Rivers at the helm in 2020, the Colts were an impressive 11-5 and were a questionable officiating call from beating the Bills on the road in a close 27-24 loss. Rivers was ranked 12th in QBR with a 96.7 rating and he completed 68.2% of his passes. In short, his play was solid but not spectacular. That’s the role Wentz will need to play. Let the 10th ranked defense do their job, enjoy the protection from the stellar offensive line, make some timely throughs, and let Jonathan Taylor become the show. Next stop: 2021 NFL Playoffs.