Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor was exceptional again on Sunday, this time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in a game that saw him move into a tie with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry for the most rushing yards in the league. His dynamic game, and the sensational streak of production that he’s on, begs the question: is he the best running back in the NFL?
Taylor finished Week 10 with 116 yards and a touchdown, making it seven straight games with at least 100 total yards and a score. He’s the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to accomplish such a feat, and it was because of plays like this that helped him get there Sunday:
Taylor now has 937 rushing yards. With Henry out for what’s likely the rest of the season, and Nick Chubb (721 yards) missing Sunday due to COVID-19, the 2021 rushing title is Taylor’s to lose. Barring injury, no one’s going to catch him.
Taylor’s pro success shouldn’t be all that surprising. He was one of the most productive running backs in college football history. He finished his career at Wisconsin with back-to-back 2,000-yard rushing seasons and holds the FBS record for the most career 200-yard games (12). His college game film is littered with plays like he’s making now with the Colts:
Even his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine provided clues that he was going to be a dominant force in the NFL. His blistering 4.39 40-yard dash is even more impressive when considering his 226-pound frame. His jumps were great, and his cone drills were fantastic. Yet, despite all that production and incredible pre-draft showing, Taylor still fell to the second round and was selected with the 41st overall pick.
Look, with the current valuation of running backs in the NFL draft, being a top-45 pick is a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Few teams will spend a first-round selection on a running back barring truly special traits, but Taylor is an example of a guy who had those special qualities but still went undervalued on draft weekend.
That’s all in the past now, and the Colts are reaping the rewards of a player who’d likely be a top-10 selection in a re-do of the 2020 draft. At worst, he’d be the choice for the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round, who chose Clyde Edwards-Helaire instead.
Taylor is on pace for nearly 1,600 rushing yards this season but his end-of-year total could be even higher than that. He’s in the midst of a hot streak with four 100-yard games over his last five outings. He’s averaging nearly six yards per carry yet he only has one game with more than 20 carries this season. If the Colts begin feeding him more touches, he could easily surpass 1,800 yards. He’s one of the most efficient runners in the NFL and when combined with his big-play ability, he’s as close to a fail-proof player as there is in the league right now.
Henry’s injury has helped Taylor emerge from the massive shadow that the Titans’ superstar casts. It’s usually around this point in a player’s career—that midway mark of their second season—that the league begins taking notice, too. Taylor’s success is no longer an ‘ok, but let’s see if he can keep doing it’ assessment. His strong rookie year (1,169 yards, five yards per carry) is being surpassed by a breakout second season. He’s now a legitimate superstar.
Here’s the scary part: Taylor might just be scratching the surface. There’s a chance he can be another Adrian Peterson type of player who dominates year in and year out, regardless of opponent and no matter how good (or bad) the Colts are. His traits and record of production confirm he’s as hard to stop as any player at his position, much like Peterson’s. There really may not be a ceiling on his upside.
So, yeah, Taylor is the best running back in the NFL right now. In part, because Henry is hurt. But also because he’s just that good. The rest of the 2021 season will belong to the Colts’ feature back, and the future might just very well be his too.