The rookie leader in receiving yards through Week 1 is…Jonathan Taylor. Yeah, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, the same Taylor widely knocked for his supposed lack of pass-catching prowess as a prospect just a few months ago, a believed inadequacy to his game that may have led to him being the third back off the board in the 2020 draft. 

Taylor snagged six passes on six targets for 67 yards in Indianapolis’ surprising loss to Gardner Minshew and the Jaguars in Jacksonville. And while I don’t expect many more nine-carry, 22-yard rushing performances from the ultra-talented rookie behind the Colts’ offensive line, if the receiving production from Taylor continues, it’ll provide major value to the team’s offense considering how much Philip Rivers has historically loved utilizing his running backs as pass catchers. 

According to Sharp Football Stats, from 2017 to 2019, the Chargers went from targeting running backs on 23% of their pass attempts to 27% to a league-high 32% last season with Rivers as the starter. In Week 1, Taylor, Marlon Mack, and Nyheim Hines on 17 of his 49 attempts (36.9%). Signs are pointing to another high-volume target season for Rivers’ running backs.  

Plus, Mack tore his Achilles after just four carries, thereby intensifying the need for the first-year weapon to step into the spotlight and shine.

In the first half, Taylor caught a screen to the left side of the field, followed two blockers who paved a large lane and demonstrated his 4.39 afterburners as he exploded for a 35-yard gain that nearly resulted in a touchdown. In the second half, Taylor caught a dump off behind the line of scrimmage, skipped past a diving tackle attempt, then finishing through another defender on a 17-yard pickup.

While Taylor had 67 receiving yards, he was credited with 89 yards after the catch (!), and he avoided one tackle as a receiver. And there’s this from Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar:

Through Taylor’s first two years at Wisconsin, he caught just 16 passes for 155 yards, pedestrian stats for a feature back. However, those low figures, to me, were more about the team’s offensive philosophy than Taylor’s inability to catch the ball and create once it was in his hands. In his final season with the Badgers, Taylor had 26 grabs for 252 yards with five scores. It was almost as if Wisconsin’s coaching staff set out to squash the skepticism surrounding Taylor’s receiving skills. 

He was credited with four drops by Pro Football Focus in 2019, but if Taylor’s routinely targeted on swing passes, classic checkdowns, and screens, an occasional drop will not be the end of the world. Alvin Kamara had four drops on his 97 targets last season with the Saints. 

Indy’s outstanding offensive line bodes well for Taylor too, and not just between the tackles on handoffs. The Colts entire offensive line of Anthony Castonzo, Braden Smith, Ryan Kelly, and Mark Glowinski, and Quenton Nelson are all high-caliber athletes for their respective positions and excel getting out in space in the screen game. 

Should we expect 67 yards receiving on six targets every week from Taylor? Probably not. But he has explosive-play ability given his boulder of a frame, burst, vision, and long speed, and we know Rivers adores finding his backs out of the backfield in the quick passing game. Plus, Mack’s out for the year. Week by week, Taylor can silence the doubters who believed he couldn’t be a viable weapon as a receiver by becoming a trustworthy option for Rivers, and he began his NFL career on the right track with a big Week 1 as a pass catcher.  

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here