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Rising superstar and NFL rushing leader Jonathan Taylor topples Bills

By Stuart Dick

Published: 14:27, 24 November 2021

In Week 11, during Indianapolis’ 41-15 victory over the Buffalo Bills, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor became the 18th player in the NFL’s long and storied history to reach the end zone five times in a single game.

The second-year back, who’s currently leading the league in rushing yards, has been a dominant force over the past two months. He’s racked up at least 100 all-purpose yards and at least one touchdown in his past eight games – a feat only accomplished twice since 1950 (when the NFL began tracking total yards from scrimmage) – as the Colts have dramatically rebuilt their season, turning an awful 1-4 start into their current 6-5 mark.

Let’s break down the former Wisconsin Badger’s performance on Sunday, his career to date and his prospects of picking up one of the NFL’s prestigious end-of-season individual awards.

Carrying the load in Buffalo

How about this for a stat line – 32 rushing attempts for 185 yards and four touchdowns, plus three receptions for 19 yards and another touchdown in the passing game. It was a jaw-dropping display.

Taylor opened the scoring for the Colts with a four-yard rushing TD in the opening quarter. He benefitted on the play from a decisive block from TE Jack Doyle before running over Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White for the touchdown.

The 22-year-old’s second touchdown came off play-action. After the fake handoff from Carson Wentz, Taylor ran a shallow wheel route down the left-hand side of the field, where he was isolated against Bills cornerback Taron Johnson in coverage. The result was a 23-yard touchdown reception.

An untimely second-quarter fumble on a Buffalo kick return set Taylor up for his third score of the contest – a two-yard rumble punctuated by a leap over the goal line.

A fourth end zone visit – set up moments earlier by Taylor’s own blistering 40-yard run through the middle of a dominant Colts offensive line – came in the third quarter. This touchdown, a 10-yard run, showcased both Taylor’s ‘cut on a dime’ agility and his power, as he capped off some nifty footwork with a stiff-arm of a defender before waltzing into the end zone. A fifth touchdown came in the final minute of the third quarter, as Taylor once again displayed his power, carrying multiple defenders into the end zone from a yard out.

This performance undoubtedly won countless fantasy matchups this weekend, while also securing substantial returns for bettors who’d made just about any manner of wager on the Colts and Taylor’s props.

Season so far

As previously mentioned, the 5-foot-8, 224-pound Taylor currently leads the National Football League in rushing yards (1,122) and rushing touchdowns (13) despite failing to register a score in his first three games of the season. What’s more, despite his slow start, Taylor looks a virtual lock to eclipse Hall of Famer Lenny Moore’s franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season (16), set in 1964, Along the way, he’ll pass another Hall of Famer, Eric Dickerson, who rushed for 14 touchdowns as a Colt in 1988.

Taylor also leads the league in 20+ yard runs (10) and 40+ yard runs (3), ranks second in yards per carry for regular starters (5.8), third in rushing yards per game (102.0), and, thus far, has posted the longest run of the season: 83 yards.

His first touchdown of the season – and his first 100-yard game – came in week four against the Miami Dolphins. He followed that up with a quiet rushing performance (just 53 yards and a TD) against the Baltimore Ravens – it’s worth noting that Taylor had a season-high 116 yards and 2 TDs receiving in that game. In the six games since, Taylor has gone on an absolute tear.

He’s rushed for at least 100 yards five times in those six outings, topped 140 on three occasions, and reached 200 combined (rushing and receiving) yards twice. Counting that game against the  Ravens, he’s scored multiple touchdown four times in his last seven games, culminating – for now – with Sunday’s masterpiece.

Player Profile

College: University of Wisconsin

Drafted: #41 overall (second round) of the 2020 NFL Draft by Indianapolis

One of the budding stars of the NFL, Taylor has seized the #1 running back position in Indianapolis in just his second season, relegating the likes of Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack – two capable NFL starters – to backup duty.

Born in Salem, New Jersey, Taylor attended Salem High School, where he amassed 4,652 rushing yards and scored 51 touchdowns. As a senior, he set a New Jersey high school records for rushing yards (2,815), and scored 37 touchdowns.

In addition to his football prowess, Taylor demonstrated elite speed by winning two state titles in the 100-metre dash with a scintillating time of 10.49 seconds. Taylor initially agreed to a scholarship at Rutgers University before switching his commitment to the University of Wisconsin.

A nine-carry, 82-yard, one-touchdown in his college debut was a sign of things to come. Taylor finished his freshman season at Wisconsin with 1,977 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns – second all-time for a freshman competing in college football’s top tier, the Football Bowl Series (FBS).

A year later Taylor led the FBS in attempts (307) and rushing yards (2,194), and earned first-team All-American honours as well as the Doak Walker Award, which is given to annually to college football’s top running back.

Heading into his junior year, Taylor was a Heisman Trophy candidate, but was outgunned by LSU (and now Cincinnati Bengals) quarterback Joe Burrow, who produced one of the great college quarterbacking seasons of all time, and scooped up a plethora of top individual awards. Despite missing out on the Heisman, Taylor did once again eclipse 2,000 rushing yards, while scoring 26 total (21 rushing, 5 receiving) touchdowns. Once again, he earned first-team All-American honours and the Doak Walker award.

Taylor passed up his senior college season to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the 41st overall pick. So far that pick looks a massive steal, as the former Badger topped 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign and, in this, his second season, has made another huge leap, and now ranks among the game’s very best offensive weapons.

Award prospects (odds with Betfair)

MVP – 25/1 (+2500)

Taylor is currently the leading non-QB candidate (and 10th overall) for the NFL’s most prestigious individual award. The last time a non-QB was named MVP was in 2012, when then-Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson picked up the award. Other than Peterson, the only non-QBs to to win the award this millennium are also running backs: LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), Shaun Alexander (2005) and Marshall Faulk (2000).

Offensive Player of the Year – 9/4 (+225)

Taylor and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp are the leading contenders for the Offensive Player of the Year award, which is typically awarded to the player with the most impressive statistical line. Offensive Player of the Year is a less QB-focused award,

with running backs having won the honor 19 times in the past 35 years. The remaining 16 honorees have predominantly been QBs (13). Since the award’s inception in 1972, the only receivers to receive the award are Hall of Famer – and the greatest of all time – Jerry Rice (in 1987 and 1993) and Saints star Michael Thomas (in 2019).

NFL Rushing Leader – ¼ (-400)

With Derrick Henry suffering a potentially season-ending injury – coincidentally against Taylor’s Colts – nearly a month ago, Taylor is now a lone wolf in the march for the NFL rushing title. He leads Henry, who is still in second place, by 185 yards, with third-placed Nick Chubb 271 yards behind, with just six games remaining. Barring injury, Taylor should secure this honor with ease.

Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl odds – 33/1 (+3300)

After a 1-4 start, the Colts have won five of their last six games, largely on the back of Taylor’s supreme form. Indianapolis is now just two games behind the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South divisional race, and currently sits ninth – half a game behind the struggling Buffalo Bills, the inconsistent Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals, and the offensively limited Pittsburgh Steelers – in the race for the AFC’s Wild Card playoff berths.

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