Jonathan Taylor was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the 41st pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Indianapolis traded up to get the former Badger which suggests they have a plan to fit him in right away. The franchise is currently in the midst of a transitional period at the position of quarterback, signing the 38 year-old Philip Rivers who played 16 seasons for the Chargers, 14 of them as the starting quarterback. Rivers is looking to join the trend of quarterbacks who are able to play at a high level past the age of 40. While he may not have accolades comparable to Tom Brady and Drew Brees in Super Bowl success, Rivers’ career statistics and his incredible longevity indicate he will be able to achieve this goal.
In 14 seasons starting, Rivers ranks top ten in both passing yards and touchdowns in NFL history. This ranks him third in both categories among active players, only trailing Brady and Brees. His elite durability allowed him to start 224 out of a possible 228 games in his 16 years with the Chargers. He has not missed a start since he was given the role 14 years ago, playing all 16 games in every season. Rivers now enters the next chapter of his career in Indianapolis, where he looks to add a championship to his Hall of Fame career.
Jonathan Taylor looks to aid Rivers in achieving his goal of a title. Based on the career Philip Rivers has had pertaining to the teams he helped lead Playoff runs with, Taylor might be the perfect fit for the scheme Indianapolis may run. Taylor played three seasons with the Badgers, putting up elite stats in each of them. He had over 2000 total scrimmage yards and over 10 touchdowns for all three seasons. 2018 was his best campaign where he ran for 2,194 yards on 7.1 yards per carry, and 16 touchdowns. It was this season he gained much attention from fans all over the country while being mentioned in the Heisman Award race.
The good news for Taylor is he plays the position which many view as one of the smoothest transitions from college to pro level. There has been a recent trend of running backs taken in the early rounds of the draft who have seen immediate success in the league. Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery and Dalvin Cook have all posted All-Pro caliber numbers in their first three seasons in the league, making young-talented backs more sought after.
In the case with Philip Rivers, he has always thrived in offenses featuring talent in the backfield. Rivers in his first four seasons starting was gifted with the legendary LaDanian Tomlinson in his backfield. Tomlinson had been in the league for 5 seasons prior to Rivers winning the starting job, where he posted over 1000 yards rushing in each of those 5 seasons. The threat of Tomlinson allowed Rivers to work his way into the starting quarterback role. This quarterback/tailback duo played with the Chargers for four years from 2006-2009. The Chargers would make the Playoffs in each of those seasons, including three AFC West Division Titles and a trip to the AFC Championship game in 2007.
Tomlinson would sign with the New York Jets after the 2009 season, figuratively passing the franchise’s torch to Rivers heading into the new decade. While Rivers showed the ability to consistently pass for over 4000 yards almost every season, the Chargers have not won a division title since the departure of LaDanian Tomlinson.
The Chargers would add running back Melvin Gordon in the 2015 draft in an attempt to bring back some of the same success they had with a quarterback/tailback tandem. While the team record did improve with a couple playoff appearances, contract disputes between Gordon and the Chargers seemingly hindered the success the team hoped for. Without being able to count on Gordon, the Chargers would implement another running back Austin Ekeler into the offense. Ekeler specializes in the art of catching passes out of the backfield, a trend commonly being showcased across the NFL. Ekeler would catch 92 passes in 2019, ranking him second among running backs only behind Christian McCaffery. This stat also put him in the top ten in all of football for receptions.
Seeing how running backs have been able to play at an elite level around Rivers, it’s a great sign for Jonathan Taylor heading into this team. There seems to be a perfect mix of areas Taylor can directly help improve the Colts right out of the gate, and things he could learn along the way. He will join running back Marlon Mack in the backfield who is coming off an impressive 1000 yard season in 2019. While some could see this as a roadblock for Taylor, it might be the opposite. Mack is considered more of a power rusher and is not as well-known for his pass catching. Being an aging quarterback, Rivers is going to want a running back on the offense with an ability to catch passes, especially after having the success with Ekeler the season before. This is an opportunity for Taylor to take his game to another level while entering the NFL. If Taylor can become an elite pass catcher out of the backfield, he will be improving his game to fit the long term NFL, while giving the Colts a much needed spark plug on offense.
Taylor will be joining a team with a recent rich history of explosive offense. The early 2000s featured legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and his star receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, along with hall of fame running back Edgerrin James. This offensive juggernaut was able to capture the first and only Super Bowl championship for the city of Indianapolis in 2007 defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17. When this era of Indianapolis ended, the franchise resurfaced that powerful offense by drafting quarterback Andrew Luck 1st overall in 2012. Along with the emerging star receiver T.Y. Hilton and veteran Reggie Wayne, Luck was able to lead Indianapolis to three straight Playoff appearances in his first three seasons. Unfortunately for Luck, his career would be cut short in 2019 when he decided to retire at age 29 after many injury riddled seasons. The Colts would miss the Playoffs this past season as the franchise looks for another direction to take the team.
The unprecedented retirement of Andrew Luck shocked the Colts’ fan base, along with the entire NFL. The team seeks to rebound from a disappointing season with a new quarterback and nine rookies joining the roster. Johnathan Taylor appears to have been drafted into a situation where the team’s focus is getting back to the Super Bowl and bringing another championship to the city of Indianapolis.