It’s official. The best two running backs in the NFL are in the NFC South.
That was a pretty well-known fact at the end of the 2021 regular season. Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor emerged as the league’s leading rusher in the absence of Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry last year. But Henry still dominated when on the field.
Staff writer Jeremy Fowler of ESPN compiled opinions from NFL executives, coaches, scouts and players to rank the best NFL players at each position this offseason. At running back, Taylor and Henry finished tied for the most first-place votes.
Henry won the tiebreaker, so Taylor was ranked No. 2 on the list.
Despite losing the tiebreaker, Taylor moved up Fowler’s list considerably. On the staff writer’s best running backs list last summer, Taylor made honorable mention.
“Last year, Taylor lost a tiebreaker with Josh Jacobs for the 10th spot, which seems silly now,” Fowler wrote. “Taylor exploded in Year 2 with 1,811 yards — leading all running backs by 500-plus yards — and 18 touchdowns on 332 carries.”
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The Total Running Back Package
He’s been that and more.
“A scout in the AFC added that Taylor is the total package for the Colts, a humble player and an incredibly hard worker to match the on-field explosion,” Fowler wrote. “Taylor had seven more rushing touchdowns and 700 more yards in 2021 than he did his rookie year.”
Taylor is also just getting started.
“He’s only going to get better,” a scout told Fowler. “And his breakaway speed can change the game at any time.”
At 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds, Taylor is an imposing force, but it’s that breakaway speed that Fowler mentioned that makes him so dangerous. He led the NFL with five runs of more than 40 yards in 2021. His 83-yard run against the Houston Texans was the longest in the NFL last season.
Taylor also led the NFL with 1,811 rushing yards and 18 rushing scores. He was first with 2,171 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns as well.
In two NFL seasons, Taylor has averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He rushed for 5.5 yards per attempt in 2021.
The Focal Point of the Colts Offense
Indianapolis had its inconsistencies elsewhere on offense last season but not at running back. Taylor was tremendous and developed into the star that opposing defenses must account for on every play.
“You go into the game with the Colts and say, ‘Don’t let him kill you. Make the quarterback beat you,'” an NFC executive told Fowler. “He’s No. 1, 2 and 3 on the game plan.”
The Colts hope that acquiring Matt Ryan changes that a bit. Not that Indianapolis won’t feature Taylor as the offense’s focal point once again, but the Colts want the passing attack under Ryan to be consistently productive too.
If defenses have to account for Ryan and his passing weapons, then Taylor will become even more dangerous.
As it is, he’s arguably the best running back in the NFL.