Is Jonathan Taylor a Slam Dunk First Overall Pick in Fantasy Football?
In a season without a lot of consensus, you won’t really hear too much pushback about drafting Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor with the first overall pick in your fantasy football drafts.
And why would you? Taylor just finished as the RB1 last season and did so by commanding a dominant workload and one of the best red zone shares in recent history.
Are there any concerns about taking Taylor first overall? Or enough worries that we should actually consider someone else at 1.01?
Touchdown regression is a real thing, and it affects virtually everyone year-over-year.
Last season, Taylor scored 4.2 more times than he probably should have based on his usage. That still means his 20-touchdown campaign should have resulted in 15.8 scores, but those who outperform touchdown rates one year tend to fall off in touchdown rate the next season.
A potential failsafe against taking a huge step back in the touchdown department is lacking competition for high-leverage touches.
Taylor was certainly the guy last year in the red zone for the Colts. He held an 80.2% team red zone rushing share in 2021, leading all players by a huge margin. Only one other player was above 70.7%, and just one more was even above 58.1%.
Taylor ultimately saw 85 red zone rushing attempts. If Taylor had no other carries besides his red zone rushes, he would have ranked 56th in rushing volume. That’s pretty nuts.
Taylor’s 80.2% red zone share also ranks 20th among all players since 2000, which dates well back into the range of true featured backs without any real talk of committees.
How did other high-leverage backs follow up huge red zone shares?
Of the 47 backs since 2000 to hold at least a 75.0% team red zone rushing share, they averaged 10.3 red zone rushing touchdowns on 55.6 red zone attempts.
The following season, they (the 46 with a follow-up season to examine [i.e. minus Taylor in 2021]) averaged 37.0 red zone attempts and 6.4 red zone rushing touchdowns.
In that sample, only 7 backs (so, 15.2%) had a 75.0% red zone share the following year, and only 13 (28.3%) were at 70.0% or better.
Among those who did repeat as red zone studs, they averaged 57.2 red zone carries and 11.3 scores. (Though it’s worth noting that sample includes a 25-touchdown season from Priest Holmes in 2003 and three years with 5 or fewer scores, too. Eight of the 13 backs in this subset scored between 10 and 16 touchdowns.)
Nobody's going to complain about a double-digit touchdown season from their RB1.
So, if we view Taylor as a lock to repeat something close to his elite 2021 workload, then he’s a lock.
If we look at other backs with similar featured roles, we should be receptive to a bit of a step back in the touchdown department.
A large part of touchdown regression is tied to underlying team performance.
Quarterbacks will regress, and teams that score at a higher-than-expected rate are probably due for the wrong side of injury or turnover luck the next season, too.
(I bring this up because we’re not talking about a Colts offense that’s a shoo-in to be a top-five unit or anything.)
That said, Carson Wentz did fare better than Matt Ryan in terms of efficiency last season (as measured by our Net Expected Points [NEP]) metric, but over the past three seasons, it’s really no contest who gives Taylor and the Colts the better shot at moving the ball and getting into scoring position.
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Ryan's been around the NFL average even in a not-always-elite situation in Atlanta. Wentz was viable in 2021 but struggled overall since 2019.
With a featured role, reasons to believe in the offense, and a top-10 ranked offensive line entering the season, Taylor is as safe a pick as we can realistically generate.
Jonathan Taylor’s 2022 Fantasy Football Projection
numberFire's fantasy football projection for Jonathan Taylor has him rated as the clear RB1.
He's projected for an astounding workload of more than 400 touches across 17 games and 20.1 total touchdowns. That's wild.
But it's easy to forget that Taylor's role came on a bit slow last season. He didn't crack a 60.0% snap rate in a game until Week 6. From Week 6 onward, Taylor averaged 23.2 half-PPR points per game with 137.3 scrimmage yards and actually an 86.5% red zone rushing share.
We can nitpick Taylor as a regression candidate, but the workload is set to be elite. And you certainly can't find that potential on the waiver wire, so there's no sense in trying to talk anyone out of Taylor in 2022 drafts.