There has never been a running back in college football who rushed for more yards in three seasons than Jonathan Taylor. He broke Herschel Walker’s record during his junior season at Wisconsin before leaving school for the NFL. Taylor was taken by the Colts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft with the 41st overall pick, immediately taking on the rookie-RB-turned-automatic-sleeper mold. He’ll have to contend with Marlon Mack for touches after Mack frustrated his fantasy football owners with an injury-plagued 2019.
Taylor has already received some rave reviews during training camp, but with no preseason games to give us hints, whether Taylor will be a fantasy force come Week 1 is anybody’s guess. If you read the tea leaves, though, you can uncover reasons worth believing in Taylor’s chances.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2020 cheat sheet
Jonathan Taylor fantasy outlook
Taylor’s college records speak for themselves, but let’s look at the numbers for a second. He rushed for 1,977 yards as a freshman, 2,194 as a sophomore and 2,003 as a junior. Across his career, Taylor ran for 6.7 yards per carry and 50 rushing touchdowns. He improved as a pass-catcher in his final year, too, going from single-digit catches to 26 as a junior.
A three-time top-10 finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting, Taylor is 5-10 and 226 pounds, a bruising rusher with some surprising speed. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
If we assume Nyheim Hines continues to hold down pass-catching duties in the Indianapolis backfield, then it comes down to whether Taylor can take Mack’s job. If Taylor can become the No. 1 RB outright, we’re looking at a strong RB2 for fantasy purposes.
Even Mack said recently that Taylor’s going to be a “beast” at the NFL level. Indications are that Mack will still be a big part of the offense in the early going, so Taylor probably won’t start the season as anything better than a flex option with potential to elevate later in the year.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
Marlon Mack fantasy outlook
Despite missing parts of a handful of games last year, Mack ran for 1,000 yards for the first time in his three-year NFL career. He still reached an efficient 4.4 yards per carry despite a career-high workload, and he found the end zone eight times. There’s no reason Mack’s rate stats can’t reach similar levels in 2020.
The biggest issue with Mack, and the reason Taylor is so appealing, is the injuries. Sports Injury Predictor gives Mack a 62 percent chance to get hurt in 2020 and projects him to miss 3.1 games. Mack fractured his hand last year, has twice had significant hamstring strains, has been recorded with a concussion twice and tore his labrum in 2017. While maybe those injuries were fluky in isolation, his bruising running style sets him up to continue getting hurt.
Likely, Mack starts the year as a RB2/flex play who could miss time part way through the season. Taylor could seize the entire job while Mack is out, and the veteran could struggle to regain his footing once back on the field. Mack is currently going 33rd among RBs, which is a fine price to pay for that role, and if he never gets hurt, there’s a chance he holds off Taylor as Indy’s lead back all year.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
What about Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins?
Hines caught 63 passes as a rookie and 44 last year. With Philip Rivers’ tendency to dump the ball off to his backs, Hines should remain a good PPR option for his work on passing downs. Just like last year, though, Hines is too small to be a direct handcuff for the Colts’ early-down work.
If Indianapolis hadn’t drafted Taylor, Wilkins would be a popular sleeper pick behind the injury-prone Mack. As it stands, he’ll be buried further on the depth chart. His is a name worth remembering, though, since he’s averaged a whopping 5.8 yards per carry in his NFL career.