Jonathan Taylor’s fantasy outlook and projection for 2021

Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in the NFL -- can he deliver on the promise of his lofty ADP and fantasy outlook in 2021?

Despite a slow start in his rookie season, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor finished as the RB6 in PPR fantasy football formats. The union of the former Wisconsin Badger and the Colts’ offensive line was a match made in fantasy football heaven. What is Taylor’s fantasy outlook and ADP going into 2021? Can Taylor’s positive momentum continue?

Jonathan Taylor’s fantasy outlook for 2021

Taylor entered last season as one of the most exhilarating rookies. He produced three consecutive seasons (2017 to 2019) of 2,000+ total yards for the Badgers. Furthermore, he had 61 rushing attempts of 10+ yards in each of his three collegiate seasons. As a result, Taylor ended his collegiate career at Wisconsin with the fourth-most rushing yards (6,174) in FBS history.

He has the traits you want in an NFL running back. He understands what’s going on in front of him and has the instincts to know where to go. Taylor also has the burst to get there quickly. In addition, his receiving ability at Wisconsin was underrated.

Taylor has the frame and physicality to win individual battles and the ability to be elusive in traffic. He is exceptional at balancing himself through contact to gain additional yardage. His season didn’t start as many anticipated, especially with committee mate Marlon Mack being out for the year with a torn Achilles.

Taylor was gradually worked into the Colts’ RB rotation in 2020. From Weeks 1 to 10, he only played 45% of the team’s offensive snaps. Taylor averaged just 15.2 opportunities, 70.2 total yards, and 12 PPR fantasy points per game.

Becoming a fantasy football league winner

Taylor went nuclear in Weeks 11 to 17 as the Colts allowed him to transition to boss mode. He played 61% of the team’s offensive snaps during that time frame, averaging 22.7 opportunities, 139.5 total yards, and an impressive 24.3 PPR fantasy ppg. Taylor finished as an RB1 in five out of six games.

Taylor ended the season with four games of 4+ targets and proved to be very capable as a receiver out of the backfield. Moreover, he averaged the ninth-most fantasy points per target (6.17) among running backs, just ahead of Vikings star Dalvin Cook (6.14). Many draft analysts were concerned about his limited reception total and the number of drops coming out of Wisconsin.

Taylor has all of the essential tools to be a top-tier three-down NFL running back. He rushed for 1,169 yards and scored 11 touchdowns while averaging 5 yards per rushing attempt. The only RB with more rushes of 15+ yards last season than Taylor (14) was Derrick Henry (21).

The foundation of Colts head coach Frank Reich’s offenses is high play volume. His offenses have been pass-heavy since 2014, but he has a history of adjusting his offensive game plans based on the opponents.

Last season, the Colts averaged the seventh-most total yards per game (383.6) and scored the eighth-most points per game (28). Indianapolis averaged 35 pass attempts (17th) and 29 rushing attempts (10th) per game.

Indianapolis’ offensive line has a familiar look to it in 2021

The Colts return four starters from what has been one of the NFL’s best offensive lines over the last few seasons. Indianapolis has adequate depth at the tackle position and also inside at center and guard. Here is what our very own Ben Rolfe had to say about them in our NFL offensive line rankings:

“Losing left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the only thing that stands between the Colts and a top-10 ranking among the best offensive lines heading into 2021. They signed Eric Fisher, who could be an adequate replacement, but he could start the year on the PUP list. That leaves Sam Tevi, Julién Davenport, or Jake Benzinger starting at left tackle to open the season.”

Indianapolis’ offensive line will continue to open running lanes for Taylor. The unit will also be tasked to protect new quarterback Carson Wentz, who was constantly under duress in Philadelphia last season.

The Colts already have significant injury concerns. Fisher is on the PUP list to start training camp, while Quenton Nelson is set to undergo surgery that could see him miss the start of the season. Ben Kelly’s health is also a bit up in the air. All of this could have a negative impact on Taylor, at least early in the season.

Carson Wentz’s success with Frank Reich

Wentz has worked with coach Reich, wide receivers coach Mike Groh, and Press Taylor. Reich was the offensive coordinator with the Eagles from 2016 to 2017, with Wentz under center. He had an MVP-caliber campaign in 2017 before his season-ending knee injury. Groh replaced Reich as Eagles offensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019.

It’s important not to forget the success Wentz had from 2016 to 2019. He finished as a QB1 in 59% of his 56 active games. Wentz averaged 253 passing yards and 20.5 fantasy points per game over that time frame.

Unfortunately, Wentz will potentially miss the start of the season with a foot injury. He eventually elected to undergo surgery on a broken metatarsal, which is expected to keep him out between five and 12 weeks. There is a slim chance Wentz could be on the field when the season begins. However, the more likely situation is that he will miss somewhere between one and seven games to start the season.

Running back targets

Last season, Philip Rivers targeted his running backs 8.6 times per game. Over the last three seasons, he ranked in the top five in checkdowns to running backs. However, over the last three seasons, Wentz has not heavily used his running backs as receivers.

This could change in 2021 — Reich’s influence could lead to opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets) for the Colts’ running backs. Indianapolis is a perfect spot for Wentz to revitalize his career. Taylor and the Colts’ RB committee will be a key part of the team’s offensive identity in 2021.

Fantasy managers shouldn’t be overly concerned about the other running backs in the Colts’ backfield

Indianapolis re-signed Mack on a one-year deal. A torn Achilles is a serious injury and challenging to return from for an NFL player. It will be surprising if the Colts provide him a high number of touches in 2021.

Still, Mack will have a role given his statistical body of work. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 16 touchdowns during the 2018 to 2019 seasons. Mack averaged nearly 19 opportunities per game during that span. For 2021, we have him projected for around 70 opportunities.

The Colts also have Nyheim Hines on the roster. He’s more lethal as a receiver out of the backfield than as a runner. Hines caught 83% of his 76 targets for 482 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in 2020.

The perception among fantasy managers is that Hines will siphon all the targets away from Taylor. However, we project that they will be provided a similar target share and finish with a similar number of receiving yards.

Reich acknowledged this summer that Taylor has “earned the right to be the main guy” in 2021. His opportunity share (37%) and snap share (62%) over the last five weeks of the 2020 season provide us a glimpse of what to expect.

Fantasy projection

Taylor projects for around 275 rushing attempts, 1,300 rushing yards, and 12 touchdowns. He also projects for 55 targets, 45 receptions, 320 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns.

Jonathan Taylor’s ADP

Taylor is the eighth running back off the board when you review redraft ADP data from Fleaflicker. In pay-to-play fantasy formats such as the National Fantasy Championship, Taylor has an ADP of 7.14 as the RB6 overall. Meanwhile, Taylor’s ADP in PPR formats on Sleeper is 6.4.

Should you draft Taylor in 2021?

Taylor could yet prove to be an excellent value in fantasy football drafts. He has a legitimate chance to outperform his ADP and finish as the fantasy RB1 in all formats.

Eric is a Senior Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow Eric on Twitter @EricNMoody.

Eric Moody is a Senior Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). He is also the co-host of the In The Mood for Fantasy Football podcast. You can read more of his work here and follow Eric on Twitter @EricNMoody.