INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard was not having any of that early-season slander towards Jonathan Taylor.
In the first 10 weeks of the 2020 campaign, Taylor’s rookie campaign saw him hit a few hurdles, fluctuate on the depth chart, in averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
While those numbers aren’t anything to write home about, Ballard wasn’t worried.
“It was unbelievable (listening to the early criticism),” Ballard says. “Here we go with a rookie back. New offensive system. A limited training camp. No preseason. No offseason. And we expect him to be a 200-yard rusher with 5 carries right from the get-go. The run game was a little different coming from the shotgun, so he had to get used to the gun runs. It’s different from when the quarterback is behind center. It’s going to be a different viewpoint for you.
“He played good football early. And he played unique football the last 6 or 7 games of the year.”
While one can debate how ‘good’ Taylor was early in the year, calling his effort to close the season ‘unique’ is unquestionably accurate.
Taylor was one of the NFL’s best running backs in the final two months of the season.
Not only did Taylor average 5.6 yards per carry to close out the year, but he ran for at least 74 yards in 7 straight games to finish the year.
In 2020, Taylor was the only player in the league to achieve such production and consistency of a stretch that long. Derrick Henry was the only guy in the NFL to do that in 2019. Ezekiel Elliott was the only player to do that in 2018.
As the year moved along, Taylor looked like a different runner.
He forced missed tackles at a higher rate. With that, came more big runs, which was a massive reason why the Colts decided to trade up for him in Round 2.
“Once midseason came, it was just like there was something different about (Taylor),” right guard Mark Glowinski said at the end of the 2020 season. “There was just like a breakthrough I felt like where he was just going for it and just made sure he did what he needed to do. I remember being a rookie too and I feel like when you first start you don’t want to mess up or you’re overthinking things so much that there is just that little bit that needs to break through. Once he had that, he was hitting big runs because he was just trusting what he needed to do.
“He has all the athletic abilities and he was smart as anything. I think more than anything it was just trusting and going for it.”
Heading into Year Two, Taylor gives the Colts an obvious bell cow runner, and a presence that Carson Wentz never had in 5 seasons with the Eagles.