In The Blitz, RotoViz writers react to the latest fantasy football news and help you place it within the context of our 2020 research and recommendations.
Throughout the offseason, the Colts’ loaded backfield provided one of the most intriguing, if not confusing, situations for fantasy this season. Running behind a Quenton Nelson-anchored offensive line that is among the best in the NFL, 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack, second-round pick Jonathan Taylor, and pass-catching specialist Nyheim Hines all had fantasy intrigue and potential league-winner status if they could seize the job. That path towards big-time fantasy points got a little clearer on Sunday, with Mack officially out for the season with a torn Achilles.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (Achilles) will officially miss the rest of the 2020 season after suffering a torn Achilles in the Week 1 loss to the Jaguars. Mack had four carries for 26 yards and three catches for 30 yards before leaving with the injury in the second quarter. It comes after he rushed for 1,091 yards in a breakout 2019 season. Mack has never played a full 16-game slate in his four years in the NFL, and he’s set to become a free agent in 2021.
It’s a tough blow for Mack, who came out of the gates strong before departing in the second quarter. However, for fantasy players, it just speeds up what many considered to be inevitable: Jonathan Taylor’s rise to the top of the depth chart, a reign that should last for years to come.
Jonathan Taylor, Generational Talent
Coming out of Wisconsin, many considered Taylor the best running back prospect in the draft. Despite this lofty praise, being merely seen as the best in his class might be selling him short. Just check out his standing in the RB Prospect Lab:
There’s Taylor in a tier of his own above the likes of superstars Christian McCaffrey, Melvin Gordon, and Todd Gurley. While there have been misses, the top-ranked players in the Prospect Lab have generally delivered on their potential: Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, and Ezekiel Elliott are also among the top 10 scorers. Taylor was already the top running back prospect we’ve seen in a while, and after running a position-topping 4.39 forty-yard dash at the combine, Shawn Siegele declared him perhaps the best prospect since Barry Sanders. Long story short, Taylor is insanely good, and it was just a matter of time before he took the starting job.
The Philip Rivers Effect
In case you hadn’t heard, new Colts QB Philip Rivers loved targeting his running backs during his tenure with the Chargers. Throughout his time with the team, he turned Danny Woodhead and Austin Ekeler into fantasy superstars, both getting over five targets a game outside of their rookie seasons. Even with those guys getting so much receiving volume, lead back Melvin Gordon, who wasn’t even considered a great receiver in college, also got over four targets per game.
Changing teams made no difference. Nyheim Hines led all running backs with eight receptions and put up 6.5 receiving fantasy points over expectation for an efficient, Ekeler-like day as a receiver, and Taylor, who was often criticized in college and during camp for drops, led all rookies with six catches for 67 yards. Adding in Mack’s three catches for 30 yards in the first half, and the Colts’ backfield was the most involved in the passing game in the league. And given Rivers’ history, that’s probably not an aberration.
Taylor is instantly a must-start running back, with the potential for much more. Dave Caban made a case that Taylor would be a top-three running back this year, and that was even taking Mack’s workload and a lack of receiving value into consideration. With Mack out of the picture and a promising receiving day, the sky’s the limit for Taylor, who would’ve had a case as a first-rounder if not for Mack’s presence.
Meanwhile, Hines is arguably also a must-start option. Shawn Siegele ranked Hines as his 11th-ranked Zero RB target, and Neil Dutton noted him as a player RotoViz rankers were significantly higher on than FPPC drafters. As a rookie, Hines was seventh at the position in targets and put up the 20th most expected points. While Jacoby Brissett’s takeover depressed his value, Rivers should elevate it close to where he was as a rookie and potentially close to Ekeler’s value. Both Taylor and Hines have a good chance to finish the season as top-24 RBs in PPR leagues.