Modern-day fantasy football is essentially the opposite of real football. In fantasy, running back is the name of the game and requires significant draft capital. Much like real football, however, the position still comes down to 2 things: talent and opportunity.
As we inch towards the season, two of the most polarizing prospects this season are Ezekiel Elliott and Jonathan Taylor. Both players currently require middle to late-round first-round values. Making the wrong pick can be disastrous to your team. When you take a close look at the situation, and overall picture, the choice should be fairly clear.
Elliott is coming off a disappointing season rushing for under 1,000 yards and a career-low 4 yards per carry. Elliott was saddled with Andy Dalton under center last season after Dak Prescott went down to injury. Many people are quick to write off Elliott this season after he posted career lows in yards and yards per carry.
The other side of the coin seems to suggest that it’s difficult to produce when you don’t have a reliable signal-caller under center. While the argument does hold some weight, it does bear some exploration of the underlying issue. For example, Elliott was hot out of the gates last season rushing for almost 100 yards and a score combined with three catches and another score against the Rams. It seemed as though owners were in for a treat last season.
However, up until Daks injury Elliotts production seemed to be diminishing. Consider that in weeks 2-6 Elliott posted 2 games over 55 yards on the ground, and had double-digit carries in each of those games. In fact, Elliott’s production over that time frame with a healthy Prescott still came out to 4 yards per carry. If we’re to believe that Elliotts down year was the result of a Daks injury the numbers don’t seem to back that up.
Even more alarming as we enter 2021 is head coach Mike Mccarthy hinting at load management for Elliott. Elliott was able to finish as RB9 last season in terms of ppr, but most of this was driven by his usage (see above) and not efficiency. If we take Mccarthy at his word and use last season’s sample as a guide, Elliott is a risky prospect whose talent appears to be diminishing along with his workload.
Taylor is entering the 2021 season in shaky territory. One month ago Taylor was a fantasy darling with questions lingering about a possible committee, but unlimited potential on a potent offense. One month later, and with two significant injuries, and we find ourselves doing a 180.
With Carson Wentz going down, along with lead blocker Quenton Nelson, questions have begun to arise. Similar to Elliott a year ago, Taylor enters the season now without an established signal-caller. However, Taylors’ outlook is drastically different in my eyes.
Notably, Taylor struggled mightily at times during his rookie season compared to the industry’s lofty expectations. Battling an ankle injury for most of the season it seemed as though 2020 was going to be a lost cause.
Indianapolis finally allowed Taylor time to heal during week 12 and held him out of action. After missing time Taylor took his game to ridiculous levels averaging almost 20 carries per game and 130 yards on the ground along with almost 1.5 touchdowns per game. Coming back from injury, Taylor proved that he was their guy when he is a dominant force, and when the team needed a play for their playoff run.
After such an amazing finish it is puzzling why Taylor is projected to go behind Elliott in 2021. Unlike Elliott, head coach Frank Reich has all but confirmed after 2020’s breakout that Taylor has earned the role of the bell cow for this team. If the Colts are going back to the playoffs they’re going to need Taylor this season, and they’re going to need him often. Jonathon Taylor has already shown us his talent, and by all accounts, he appears primed for a heavy workload.
At the end of the day, these are two players headed in opposite directions in terms of their value. While Elliott is still relevant and talented, it’s clear that Taylor is the safer bet this season. As we discussed earlier, talent is part of the equation as is opportunity.
As we enter 2021 I struggle to find a player I trust more talent and opportunity-wise than Jonathon Taylor. You’re on the clock, go grab your league winner this season because it won’t even require having the first pick.