Let’s talk about Jonathan Taylor and value. For now, we’ll keep it at a lower case “v” and stay away from the word Most. Maybe we’ll even stay away from Player.

What’s indisputable is the Colts have something going with Taylor and a running game that is keeping the Indianapolis afloat and in the playoff race. Through Week 15, the Colts ran 10th in offensive DVOA by Football Outsiders. They’re at that spot while ranking 20th in passing DVOA. That’s because they’re first in rushing DVOA. Efficient offenses aren’t typically completely carried by a running game, but that’s where we are with Indianapolis.

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This year, the Colts have been a rare team that can run often on early downs and keep it efficient. Indianapolis has the fifth-highest run rate on first and second down this season and they’re first in EPA per attempt on those rushers, according to Sports Info Solutions. They’re just one of four teams with positive EPA on those play and are also one of the few teams to have a higher EPA per play on early down runs (0.05) than on early down passes (0.01).

A lot of where this comes from is the ability to get positive value out of situations that are generally poor most offenses. We’ve learned over the years that rushing efficiency is heavily reliant on the number of defenders in the box and those box counts are greatly influenced by the offensive personnel. Heavy personnel packages invite more defenders into the box, which thwarts rushing efficiency.

But the Colts have been able to weaponize those boxes to create big plays, thanks to the offensive line plus Taylor’s vision and speed.

Opposing defenses know the Colts want to run the ball, so they’re committing more resources to stop it, especially when Indianapolis uses 12 personnel (two tight ends). Across the league, defenses have countered 12 personnel with a base defense (four defensive backs) 52% of the time and nickel (five defensive backs) 46% of the time on early downs. Against the Colts this year, defenses have countered 12 personnel with base 72% of the time and nickel just 27% of the time on early downs.

That’s keeping bigger bodies on the field for the defense, ones that can’t always keep up with the speed of Taylor should he get to the second level. On those runs, the Colts are seventh in positive play rate (the percentage of plays that produce positive EPA) but they have the highest rate of plays that produce 1.0 or more EPA at 11.8%. The next highest team is at just 8.7%.

This same type of advantage holds for the Colts when they run against stacked boxes. The Colts lead the league in EPA per attempt on early down runs with eight or more men in the box and one of two teams, along with the San Francisco 49ers, to have positive EPA on such runs. Indianapolis has these runs at a high rate, which makes the efficiency more impressive, but there are also four teams with more attempts and the highest EPA per play among them is -0.08. 

As it stands right now, Taylor already has the highest total EPA on early downs runs against stacked boxes since at least 2015, as far as SIS charting goes back. He’s nearly double the EPA of the next-highest running back.

Top EPA on Early Down Runs vs Stacked Box, 2015-2021

2021Jonathan TaylorColts6713.290.2047.8%
2017Mark IngramSaints817.420.0944.4%
2018Melvin GordonChargers466.900.1547.8%
2020David JohnsonTexans396.690.1748.7%
2016Mike GillisleeBills316.500.2154.8%
2020Jeff Wilson49ers475.810.1253.2%
2020Aaron JonesPackers495.710.1244.9%
2017Latavius MurrayVikings785.400.0742.3%
2019Alvin KamaraSaints615.280.0950.8%
2020Darrell Henderson JrRams484.940.1047.9%

These types of runs were part of the argument for the value of Derrick Henry over the past two seasons, but Henry didn’t come close to the numbers Taylor has put up this season.

Jonathan Taylor vs Derrick Henry, Early Down Runs vs Stacked Box

2021Jonathan Taylor6713.290.2047.8%10.4%1.5%
2020Derrick Henry141-1.72-0.0146.8%5.0%2.8%
2019Derrick Henry127-1.82-0.0140.2%6.3%3.1%

The Indianapolis offensive line certainly plays a big part in this, but it’s also Taylor in the backfield making these plays happen. There’s a very small sample of Nyheim Hines in these situations this season, but the results have been quite different.

Jonathan Taylor vs Nyheim Hines, Early Down Runs vs Stacked Box, 2021

Jonathan Taylor6713.290.2047.8%
Nyheim Hines13-1.77-0.1438.5%

Some of Taylor’s production here comes from carries in the red zone, but even outside the red zone, he averages 0.26 EPA per attempt on these runs.

By keeping these types of plays efficient enough, Taylor’s biggest impact is keeping the Colts away from obvious passing situations. Carson Wentz has provided his ups and downs this season, but Indianapolis has been able to hide much of that by keeping the passing offense controlled.

66.4% of Wentz’s early down passes this season have come against light boxes. On those throws, Wentz is completing 63% of his passes for 6.4 yards per attempt and -0.02 EPA per attempt. That yards per attempt figure is the fifth-lowest among 32 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in that situation. Only 41.9% of his pass attempts have produced positive EPA, better than only Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson.

On early down pass attempts against neutral or stacked boxes, Wentz is averaging 8.6 yards per attempt and 0.05 EPA per attempt. HIs 52% positive play rate is 12th among quarterbacks.

Allowing Indianapolis to hold defenses in those neutral or stacked boxes while keeping the run efficient is both a value add for the ground game and in keeping Wentz out of bad situations. 

One of Taylor’s best traits is his ability to hit the hole quickly. Per Next Gen Stats, Taylor has run 3.07 yards for every positive yard gained. That’s the second-best rate behind Chase Edmonds (3.02), a back who does most of his running against light boxes in Arizona’s spread-out offense. 28.2% of Taylor’s total rushing attempts have come against stacked boxes while that figure is just 9.8% for Edmonds.

So much of that stems from how Taylor can take advantage of the hole provided to him. Take Taylor’s 67-yard touchdown run that iced the game for the Colts over the New England Patriots in Week 15. On a second-and-8, the Colts came out in 13 personnel. The Patriots countered with a stacked box and one deep safety. This was the pre-snap look:

The blocking provided Taylor with a huge hole on the left side of the line as safety Devin McCourty came down.

By the time Taylor got to the line of scrimmage, both McCourty and linebacker Dont’a Hightower were there ready to make the tackle.

But Taylor was able to manipulate that space and get inside Hightower to break free. With the stacked box and the safety crashed down, there was no one on the second level to stop Taylor on his way to the end zone.


Taylor can be that home run threat at any time, but to stick with the baseball metaphor, he’s constantly hitting valuable doubles in these situations when so many other runners are hoping for singles at best.

This might not be the most sustainable way to carry an offense long-term, but the Colts have found a formula that works for now. It’s clear the Colts are one of the rare teams built well around the run and asking the team to pass more would be a detriment to the offense. Taylor’s value is hard to ignore and how far Indianapolis can go in the playoffs could very well depend on how far Taylor can carry the team.