Fantasy Soccer: will Jonathan Taylor get even higher in his encore in 2021? | Fantasy Soccer Information, Leaderboards and Projections
We’re in the middle of the NFL off-season and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll answer the biggest questions for the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The Indianapolis Colts picked Wisconsin stud RB Jonathan Taylor with the 41st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Taylor is the sixth most productive running back in college football by total rushing yards. Taylor has looked like an absolute Stud Bell cow since his first season with the Badgers in 2017.
Fast forward to 2021 and Taylor ends a temporarily dominant rookie campaign that ultimately produced 1,468 yards and 12 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Colts wildcard loss to the Bills wasn’t exactly as they’d envisioned the end of the season, and next year’s offense output will be evident with ex-Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz under the middle instead of the 2020 retired starter Philipp rivers look different.
What follows is a breakdown of how good Taylor did in 2020 and what to expect of him as a fantasy football asset during his encore.
Taylor looked terribly dominant the last time we saw him
The Colts rookie finished 2020 as the PPR RB6 behind Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, David Montgomery and Aaron Jones. However, this was hardly a season in which there was constant dominance. Taylor was the PPR RB15 before the Colts Week 7, hitting 60% snaps and / or 20 touches on just one occasion. Things didn’t immediately improve: Taylor was the PPR RB16 in weeks 1-11 before missing the Colts’ week 12 matchup against the Titans due to COVID-19.
And then JT became Super Saiyan on everyone.
|week||Above||PPR RB rank|
|7th||BYE||N / A|
|12th||TEN||N / A|
It’s not fair to blame Taylor’s weak end-of-season schedule against him, any more than we would for Henry or Montgomery; Just imagine we saw a lower floor than some of the rookie could remember ahead of his last six games of the season.
The film was generally impressive, although the flashy pieces weren’t too present in the first half of the season. Overall, Taylor forced just eight missed tackles as a rusher in Weeks 1-10, compared to 37 in his last seven games through the playoffs.
Be careful if you are simply trying to confirm our history in fantasy land, regardless of what the film tells us; some of the overreactions to Taylor’s blown coverage causing a 39-yard touchdown catch against the Texans were nauseating. It is true that in fantasy football all touchdowns are counted equally and style points do not matter. Still, going through Taylor’s scoring reel last season doesn’t exactly make me believe he’s in a different stratosphere than any other running back in the league.
Every TD from Jonathan Taylor as a rookie pic.twitter.com/Q6ktDeUZBy
– Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 14, 2021
The analysis backs the assumption that, while great, Taylor was not the world’s greatest monster for all of 2020.
- PFF rushing class: 80.1 (13th among 48 RBs with 100 total carry-overs in 2020, including playoffs)
- Missed tackles enforced per rush: 0.18 (bound for No. 18)
- Yards per wear: 4.9 (bound for No. 10)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.0 (bound for No. 19)
- Material price: 7.5% (bound for No. 16)
Taylor deserves credit for getting the 22nd best PFF out of 48 qualified return players, despite backfield colleague Nyheim Hines actually finishing No. 1 in that group. Three drops in Taylor’s last two games messed up his previously incredibly efficient season as a receiver. Anyway, it’s great to see that Taylor was at least a competent, if not solid, inclusion option after that part of his game was viewed as a negative for leaving college.
The problem for Taylor is that we have new questions to answer in both the volume and efficiency markets.
This Colts offensive could take a step back into the scoring department
The reigning ninth-placed top scorer in the league is still backed by everyone’s idea of an elite offensive line. PFF rated the Colts as the NFL’s best offensive line prior to 2020, finishing in seventh place. This year, PFF only has the Cleveland Browns ahead of the Colts in our preseason offensive line rankings.
This is great: ideally targeting fantasy running backs behind elite offensive lines is good practice. In fantasy land, however, volume tends to be a bit more important. Last season, PFF’s five highest rated offensive lines produced four top 24 PPR running backs in the run-blocking grade. The bottom five units of PFF run-blocking quality … also produced four top 24 PPR spines.
The latter group was highlighted by higher quality passport catchers such as Austin Ekeler and Myles Gaskin. After all, getting repayments is a bit of a cheat code in the lovely American pastime known as fantasy football. Taylor is not at her level as a receiving threat, but his 36-299-1 line in 2020 showed he is still capable of collecting yards in the passing game.
The question is whether this type of workload can still be achieved in 2021 without any known sub-center feeder flows going back. The following table, which lists each of the Chargers, Colts, and Eagles in the goals up to running back position, shows us that Rivers, not Frank Reich or Wentz, is the most common variable in offenses that prioritize targeting running backs in the passing game .
Both Reich (2018) and Wentz (2019) were also part of crimes involving the running backs in the passing game. Just remember that it takes a pretty big leap of faith to assume that this backfield will be combined again for 131 goals.
It is also hardly a given that this Colts offensive with Wentz instead of Rivers under the middle will be so productive. The SuperBook odds project the Colts somewhat surprisingly as a team with the top four goals before 2021, but it’s basically still impossible to find a single statistic that better represents the 2020 version of Wentz than the 2020 rivers. Even Wentz’s MVP Form 2017 version doesn’t go together as well as you think.
Wentz certainly deserves a slack off considering that Rivers was able to work behind a much better and healthier offensive line. The Eagles also boasted an objectively poorer group of recipients. Perhaps Wentz is the exception to the rule that first-round quarterbacks who don’t play at least six seasons with the team that designed them aren’t good; At the very least, consider keeping expectations for this offense above average compared to the top 5 territory.
The final obstacle to Taylor’s quest to function as an elite fantasy running back (again) is the reality that the Colts Week 1 starter will be returning from injury: Marlon Mack only played 11 snaps in 2020 before taking on his Achilles crack. Yes, Taylor should definitely continue to be projected as the # 1 Colts running back. Also, yes, one of Mack or Jordan Wilkins is likely to suck up an annoying amount of early work behind Taylor. The latter scored 96 touches in 15 games last season, while the former won a total of 2,184 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Colts in the 2018-2019 season.
This is not to suggest that either Mack or Wilkins stand a chance of displacing Taylor at the top of the depth map. Rather, it indicates that they are 1.) hardly any scrubs and (more importantly) 2.) are proven trusted members in this crime.
And all of this can be said about Taylor’s situation in 2021, before realizing that Nyheim Hines, the reigning PPR RB18, isn’t going to step back much from its 2020 workload with 89 rush attempts and 76 goals. Last season, Hines, Wilkins, and Mack worked together to both excel (585 vs. 511) and collect more carries and targets than Taylor (272 vs. 271). Taking Mack out of the picture doesn’t change the reality that this was a three-backed committee for most of 2020. Taylor began to take the lead during the last seven games of the year, but that included Wilkins spending the last two games of the season on the COVID list.
Put everything together and….
Taylor is an RB1, but don’t drive yourself crazy
In 2020, NFL running backs averaged 0.64 PPR points per rush attempt compared to 1.58 per goal. Using this discrepancy creates some sort of expected fantasy point model that we can apply to our PFF projections. This purely volume-driven formula generates full point-per-reception rankings for the running back for the next season and shows how difficult it can be for one-dimensional backs to beat the odds. Taylor ranks 14th on this list, behind guys with a lower ADP like Cam Akers, D’Andre Swift, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon, and Austin Ekeler.
Taylor currently carries an ADP as an RB7 on both Underdog Fantasy and Fantasy Football Calculator. I just can’t stand behind him at this high rating; he is currently my RB12 in my third stage “with a little luck these guys could jump two stages.”
I wouldn’t vehemently disagree with anyone who wants to put Taylor in front of Akers or Mixon. It’s close. The reality, however, is that these running backs have best-case scenarios as the complete workhorse of their respective backfields, while Taylor assumes that Hines will always give Hines a large portion of the passing work, even if he manages to get the Colts committee down to two reduce back.
Standard scoring has completely different criteria. I understand Taylor shot the board in front of guys like Disgust and possibly even Jones in this scenario. Still, a PPR rating of at least half a point has become the norm in fantasy land and we have to play the cards we are dealt.
I wish the simple act of catching the soccer ball didn’t mean gaining 10 yards or getting yards in most fantasy football leagues. Mike Davis agreed with me on The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast when he found out that this is how fantasy works. Unfortunately, this is the game we play so I’m forced to be less at Taylor than most of the others. The social media smear of this article and the quote graphics that followed will likely be extreme: I just can’t in good faith rationalize Taylor’s ranking in front of so many players who clearly have more imaginative workloads. He may be a walking exception like Henry, but it is generally good practice to avoid relying too heavily on exceptions.
As for Hines, I’m after him most of the time unless we get dirty in the zero RB streets considering he’s a primary pass down on an offensive that is expected to do the Withdraws the overall target share granted to the position. Take into account the fact that Hines is more than one injury away from inheriting a full-time position, and I’d rather invest in similarly expensive backs like Latavius Murray, Jamaal Williams, and Alexander Mattison.