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AFC South

Ballard’s Superstar Investments Continue with Jonathan Taylor

MGoBlog (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Colts GM Chis Ballard stated that entering the draft he wanted to add superstars to the Colts roster. In Ballard’s third year as head architect of team construction, the process called for adding blue chippers. One could argue that the Colts really only have one current blue chipper, LG Quenton Nelson, with the tier below consisting of TY Hilton, Darius Leonard, Phil Rivers, and maybe Anthony Costanzo. The team lacks headlines. Ballard aimed to change that with the 2020 draft.

The Colts traded their 1st round pick to the 49ers for DT DeForest Buckner. Buckner finished 2019 as a second team all pro and recognition as one of the youngest, skilled, 3-tech’s in all of pro football. The Colts have lacked any sort of presence in the defensive interior and instantly upgraded the position with the acquisition of Buckner.
Continuing with the acquisition of superstars theme, Indianapolis had two picks in the second round and used them both to add recognizable offensive firepower. The Colts traded up to 41st overall and chose Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor. This article will delve into the skill set of Jonathan Taylor, his superstar potential, and how it transitions within the context of the Indianapolis Colts offense.

Skill Set

Taylor is a pure runner, in the traditional sense. Wisconsin runs a pro style offense, deploying a lot of 12 and 21 personnel. I watched 7 of his games from 2019. From the tape, I was able to derive a number of his strengths:

-Work house RB, 20+ carries is the norm.
-Sifts through traffic nicely.
-Able to move through small gaps.
-He stays within the structure of the play. Does not go rogue.
-Yards after contact are par for the course.
-Willing blocker in pass pro. Competent in cut blocking.
-Great vision.
-Good at setting up blocks at the second level.
-Has ability to hit the turbo, when he chooses.
-Great finisher. Always falls forward, and takes multiple defenders with him.

Areas of improvement:
-Route Running
-Ball security
-Does not always take the large cutback, in zone runs.
-Inconsistent hands in the pass game.

Athletically, Taylor was arguably the best in this year’s RB draft class. His adjusted SPARQ score placed him in the 96th percentile, second amongst RB’s.
The table below shows Taylor’s combine measurables and how they fare against the primary Colts running backs. With the exception of Nyheim Hines (who is used primarily in the pass game), Taylor is right in line with the other Colt, between the tackle, runners.

Height

Weight (lbs)

Hand Size

40 Yard Dash

Bench Press

Vertical Leap

Broad Jump

Short Shuttle

3 Cone

Jonathan Taylor

5’11”

219

9.5”

4.39

17

36”

123”

4.24

7.01

Marlon Mack

5’10 ¾”

213

9.0”

4.5

15

35.5”

125”

4.22

N/A

Nyheim Hines

5’8 ½”

198

8.88”

4.38

N/A

35.5”

N/A

4.35

7.18

Jordan Wilkins

6’0 ⅔”

216

9.38”

N/A

16

36”

117”

4.27

N/A

*Data acquired via nflcombineresults.com

Within the Context of the Colts Offense

Post draft, where does Taylor slot into the Colts depth chart? The Colts run primarily out of 11 and 12 personnel. With few exceptions, they always have a TE in on the field. In their 2019 run plays, that I scouted, they ran more zone than gap scheme. While the guys up front are strong they are also good athletes which allows the run game to be so versatile.
His primary competition for touches will be with Marlon Mack. I have watched the majority of Mack’s runs from 2019. A side by side comparison of Mack’s skill set, with Taylor’s, helps deepen a projection of how the two might work in tandem.
Marlon Mack would line up offset, in the gun, or in the dot, behind center.  When watching his tape, he has grown leaps in bounds in his ability to go off his reads, and hit it up between the tackles. Mack was notorious for bouncing everything when he came into the league. Below is a quick synopsis of Mack’s skill set from his 2019 tape:

-He does a great job of riding behind his blockers, north and south, to grind out extra yards.
-Runs with a springy, bouncy style enabling him to quickly leap laterally, gap to gap.
-When he is fresh, has that famous, patient, Le’Veon Bell style of pressing the hole.
-Capable of catching the ball, primarily checkdowns.

Areas of improvement:
-Outside zone accurate reads are inconsistent compared to inside zone reads.
-Doesn’t always burst through open holes. Gets indecisive.
-Runs minimal route tree, with minimal YAC.

Ultimately, the Colts will use Mack and Taylor as their primary backs in 2020. Having the veteran Mack will allow the Colts to patiently assimilate Taylor into the flow of the offense. 2020 is a contract year for Mack, and 2021 will be the year when Taylor ascends to the superstar, feature back Ballard envisioned.

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