NFL Team Preview: Colts have a star in Jonathan Taylor, but questions elsewhere

·6-min read

We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 24th-ranked Indianapolis Colts.

Jonathan Taylor shook off a slow start to carry fantasy managers to titles with his strong close to last season (RB1 overall from Weeks 13-17). Percent chance he finishes as 2021's top fantasy player?

Liz: Last year coach Frank Reich wanted the rookie to “earn it.” That’s exactly what Taylor did. He received double-digit carries in all but three games last season. And those games happened to be a) his professional debut and b) the week after he sprained his ankle (vs. the Ravens run defense, no less) and c) the week after that. In those last two games mentioned (Weeks 8 and 9), seven of his total 13 totes were in the red zone.

From Week 11 on, Taylor averaged 19.8 carries per contest and never once fell outside of the top-15 FF players at the position. Over that final six weeks, he also recorded 8 of his 12 total (regular season) scores (RB4). While he averaged fewer than three targets per contest, he did post 8.3 YPR (RB6), which further illustrates his elite efficiency (top-9 in breakaway run rate and top-10 in tackles evaded).

Given Indy’s offensive line, the team’s change in QB, an added year of experience, and no legit threat to his volume… finishing as fantasy’s RB1 is certainly in Taylor’s range of probable (better than possible) outcomes. He is, after all, the Yahoo Consensus RB4. The names ahead of him (CMC, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry) are simply more established.

Scott: I'm moving Taylor to the 3 or 4 spot, depending on scoring format, to open the year. It took him a while to figure out what running lanes look like in the NFL, but he was a monster down the stretch; really, a league-winner. It also took the Indy offensive line a while to get its sea legs last year; I expect that group to be a plus unit all season. And the division plays along nicely, with Jacksonville looking like a 5-12 type of team, and Houston perhaps the NFL's weakest roster and most troubled franchise. Go get a young back with low mileage. Taylor could be on a bunch of magazine covers a year from now. 

Dalton: I have Taylor ranked as the No. 2 player on my board entering the year, so I’m bullish. He averaged 134.5 yards from scrimmage and scored nine touchdowns over the final six games last season as a rookie (including the playoffs). Just two of those games came at home, and Taylor passed the eye test as one of the league’s best backs after a slow start to his career. Taylor was top-10 in yards per route run among RBs, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t start seeing more targets. He’s also a safer health bet than Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley or Derrick Henry coming off nearly 400 carries.

Taylor is 22 years old with fresh legs and has the workout metrics of a top-pedigree back. The Colts also made a big upgrade at LT when it comes to run blocking by replacing Anthony Castonzo with Eric Fisher during the offseason. Taylor also has the most favorable projected fantasy schedule among running backs. He has about as good of a shot at finishing as fantasy’s RB1 this year as any back in the league (although CMC is the clear favorite in PPR).

Michael Pittman Jr. is the most intriguing option in Indy's passing game, but he's ranked in WR4 territory. Are you avoiding the pass-catchers in this offense entirely or is there value to be found?

Scott: I believe that Frank Reich can fix Carson Wentz, so I believe in Pittman. I'm not going to bet on T.Y. Hilton at this stage of his career; give me the later value play. 

Dalton: Pittman is definitely the most intriguing, but the Colts brought back T.Y. Hilton and will likely continue to rotate their receiver reps. Moreover, Carson Wentz was very bad last season, and Indy will want to be run heavy. I’d still take a late flier on Parris Campbell —certainly before I would Hilton.

Liz: I mean Zach Pascal led Indy’s receiving corps in snaps (908) last year so anything is possible…

Last summer I was driving the Michael Pittman Hype Train… until Andy Behrens’ gentle (but regular) reminders about Parris Campbell’s explosiveness caused me to (ever-so-slightly) tap the brakes. Of course, the Ohio State Buckeye was lost to injury (MCL and PCL sprains in Week 2) for the second straight season, but he figures to be part of the Colts equation again in 2021. Campbell offers plenty of upside — even if that upside is steeped largely in the unknown — and I’d be willing to take the plunge, particularly late in Best Ball drafts.

Are you buying or selling Carson Wentz becoming a fantasy QB1 again after reuniting with Frank Reich?

Dalton: It would take a minor miracle for Wentz to be a QB1 in fantasy with so many rushing quarterbacks these days, and I don’t even rank him as a QB2 coming off such a dreadful season. Wentz somehow took the most sacks (50) and threw the most interceptions (15) in the NFL last year — and he only played 12 games. His seven fumbles were the fourth-most in the league (he has 58 in 68 career games). Wentz also finished second to last in YPA (6.0) and CPAE (the latter behind only Dwayne Haskins). I’m out.

Liz: I am optimistic that Wentz will find redemption in 2021 but given the depth of talent at the position, it’ll be tough for him to crack the top-12 (unless Julio is traded to Indy?). Wentz is mobile and figures to average around 4 rushing attempts per game (he managed a career-high 4.9 rushing attempts/game in 2017 when he closed out the year as FF’s QB7), but he’s not as electric as the dual-threats who’ve gained starting roles since he was fantasy relevant.

Furthermore, the upgrade in o-line means he’s less likely to scramble and dive into the end zone. And while he has talented receivers, they’re not elite. Plus, the Colts opening schedule (vs. SEA, vs. LAR, @ TEN, @ MIN, @ BAL) is rough. For me, he’s in the QB15-18 range (along with Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield).

Scott: You have to draft Wentz as a QB2 but the Reich/Wentz combination must be respected. Philip Rivers was the QB20 last year, getting nothing from his legs, as usual. You'll draft Wentz around that pocket, but he can land in the QB 11-15 area if a few things break right. It's not a dynamic upside, but there's a hint of it. 

Indianapolis Colts projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Carson Wentz

RB: Jonathan Taylor / Nyheim Hines / Marlon Mack

WR: Michael Pittman Jr. / T.Y. Hilton / Parris Campbell

TE: Jack Doyle

Indianapolis Colts O/U on 9.5 win total from BetMGM

Dalton: UNDER. This line seems about right, but I’m fading Carson Wentz winning 10 games. A vulnerable division helps Indy, but the Colts had a shaky draft and enter with plenty of question marks on offense beyond Jonathan Taylor. Quarterback matters a lot.

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

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