From the Sidelines: Jonathan Taylor’s ascension to NFL superstardom


Every year, some players take that fabled “leap” into superstardom by dramatically surpassing all expectations and dominating the field. This year, one of those players has been Jonathan Taylor, running back for the Indianapolis Colts. In just his second season, he has a stat line that proudly declares one thing: he is the best running back in the league now. 

Jonathan Taylor is inhuman. 

A casual NFL fan may know that he currently leads the league in rushing yards. Fantasy football managers may know that he scored 53.4 points last week—the highest total for any player so far. But digging a bit deeper, his advanced stats reveal an even more impressive stat line. 

Usually, running backs are labeled either speed-backs or power-backs, depending on their running style. Very few players are able to use their quickness to burst into the open field, but also use their strength to move piles near the goal line. 

Well, Jonathan Taylor does both. When he is in the open field, he is elusive enough to change direction and evade defenders. His longest rush of 83 yards, which leads the league, was a perfect example of his explosive speed. In fact, Taylor leads the league in 10-yard, 20-yard, 30-yard, 40-yard, and 50+ yard runs. Yeah, ridiculous. 

And when defenders get close in tight space, he is also able to use a stiff-arm to get past them, evidenced by his league-leading 18 broken tackles. Near the end zone, Taylor is able to keep his feet churning and push defenders backward for small but important gains. That has allowed him to lead the league in touchdowns. 

Taylor simply has no weaknesses. He is not the most productive pass-catching back in the league, but his 83.7 percent catch rate is among the best. He has over 100 more yards after contact than the next closest player, yet another stat proving his power and ability to fight through defenders. 

Amazingly, he also leads the league in yards before contact, and this may be his best attribute. He is patient behind his offensive line, waiting for gaps to open before shooting through the smallest openings. Even if he only has one or two blockers, he has an incredible feel for positioning and smartly lets his teammates take out defenders before accelerating to full speed. The combination of all of his abilities has enabled him to lead the league in yards per carry—an incredible feat considering that he also leads the league in attempts. 

He also has all the secondary skills necessary for number one running backs, such as a sharp jump-cut, route-running ability, and good blocking in pass protection. So far in his career, he has been extremely durable as well: he tallied over 300 attempts for three straight years at the University of Wisconsin, which was the most among all NCAA players during that span. Though durability and injuries may become a concern later, as it did for high-volume players such as Derrick Henry, it has not hindered Taylor yet. 

Taylor leads the league in just about every major statistic, and just about every advanced metric as well. We have not seen such a well-balanced mix of talent in years, especially at such a young age. If he keeps this up, the history books are not far away—so watch out.