The time between the end of mandatory minicamps in June and the start of training camps in late July is the slowest news cycle annually in the NFL, so we will take whatever morsel we can get. In that regard, Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich recently said that second-year running back Jonathan Taylor "earned the right to be the main guy" in the Colts' backfield in 2021. That obviously has Fantasy Football ramifications and William Hill Sportsbook lists Taylor as a +2500 longer shot to lead the NFL in rushing.
The last Colts player to lead the NFL in rushing? Future Hall of Famer Edgerrin James when he repeated in 2000 with 1,709 yards on the ground.
Taylor had one of the best collegiate careers ever at the University of Wisconsin but lasted until the 41st pick in Round 2 of the 2020 draft. He was the third running back chosen after LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire went with the final pick of the first round to Kansas City and Georgia's D'Andre Swift was the No. 35 pick by Detroit.
Two main reasons why Taylor slipped a bit were that he wasn't a great pass-catcher in college and had some fumble problems. Those arose a times last year, but Taylor finished with very strong numbers: 223 carries for 1,169 yards (third in NFL) and 11 touchdowns (seventh) while catching 36 passes for 299 yards and a TD. Taylor also rushed 21 times for 78 yards and a TD in Indy's wild-card loss in Buffalo.
For the first half or so of the season, Taylor was sharing carries in a crowded backfield with the likes of former 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins – although Mack was hurt in Week 1. Taylor clearly took over as the featured back in the back half of the season in averaging around 20 carries in the final six games – topped by a 30-carry, 253-yard, two-TD monster in the finale vs. Jacksonville. The yards were a franchise record and helped earn Taylor NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month honors for December.
All those other tailbacks also return; in a minor surprise, Mack re-signed on a one-year deal this offseason. However, in an Athletic story posted today, Reich said that Taylor "really established himself" and … "earned the right to be the main guy." Keep in mind that Reich has a history of riding the hot hand. Wilkins and Hines are more receiving-type backs.
With the added 17th game this year, Taylor is given an opening Over/Under total of 1,200.5 yards rushing. Indianapolis and new QB Carson Wentz open Sept. 12 vs. Seattle. The Colts are -2.5 on the NFL odds. The SportsLine Projection Model has Taylor rushing for 62 yards and 0.58 TDs in the opener.
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