Jonathan Taylor should be the runaway rookie of the year favourite
“With the 41st pick of the 2020 NFL Draft the Indianapolis Colts select Jonathan Taylor, Running Back, Wisconsin”. Words that echoed around the empty basement of the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in April’s unique NFL Draft. Taylor falls into a perfect situation in Indianapolis, a team who runs the ball a lot, with a below average performer at the position quickly running down his cheap rookie contract. With incumbent starter Marlon Mack entering the final season of his rookie deal the drafting of Taylor signals that the Colts will be letting the running back walk at the end of the season.
Taylor was a star at Wisconsin during his college career. A supreme athlete, he carried the offense on his back totalling more than 900 carries at over 6.5 yards per carry. These monster numbers were in part due to playing behind a very good run blocking offensive line. Now, Taylor lands on an NFL team with a line that was amongst the best in the league in power run blocking in 2019. If that form continues into 2020, then Taylor will have a major impact in his rookie year and could see him in the running for the Rookie of the Year Award.
Strong Offensive Line
Taylor is used to running behind an offensive line that consistently wins on power run plays. Per Football Outsiders, Wisconsin had a power rush win rate of 77% in 2019, placing them in the top 20% of FBS programs. Meanwhile, in the NFL, the Colts ranked seventh in the same metric, with a 69% win rate and as such rank roughly equally to Wisconsin when compared to the rest of their competition. Taylor is going into an environment in which he will feel comfortable, knowing that his offensive line is going to put him in good situations more often than not. For a running back, that can be the key to superstardom.
However, the famed Colts offensive line won’t be blocking against thin air. All of the Colts division opponents ranked in the top-17 teams against power running plays in 2019. Seeing veteran linemen Calais Campbell and Jurrell Casey leave the division will give the team some hope of boosting its run game in 2020 but the growth of Jeffery Simmons to fill the void left by Casey’s departure from Tennessee will mean it isn’t all plain sailing for the Colts. The Colts will however be boosted by the fact that two teams in their division, the Texans and the Jaguars, were in the bottom ten teams for adjusted line yards in 2020.
Rookie of the Year?
Taylor lit up the combine in his new hometown of Indianapolis back in March, grading out with elite speed, great explosion and good size. Taylor has all the athletic tools needed to be a star at this level. His speed holds up on tape, as there are highlight reels stuffed full of big plays that see Taylor burst through a hole and use his elite speed to run by defensive backs.
If Taylor can bring his big play ability to the NFL then he can put up the kind of numbers the give him a shot to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Running backs have won the award in four of the last seven years, and Taylor has a great chance to make it five in eight. The running back position is often considered the easiest one to adapt to the NFL and with Taylor’s style and running ability expect him to be right up there in contention come the end of the season.
Head of Analytics
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Image credit: AP Photo/Michael Conroy & Rick Wood – MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL