The 2021 season was a magical ride for Jonathan Taylor.
Selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Taylor, after an adjustment period the first half of his rookie season, really started to take off from there, showing off his elite blend of athleticism, speed, strength and vision to close out 2020 already considered one of the top running backs in the league.
He followed up his rookie year with one of the best overall years by a running back in recent NFL history in 2021. Taylor set single-season franchise records for rushing yards (1,811; winning the league rushing title by a wide margin) and rushing touchdowns (18), and was named an unanimous Associated Press First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection.
Not bad for a franchise that has a storied history at the running back position that includes the likes of Edgerrin James, Lydell Mitchell, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson and Lenny Moore.
Understandably, Taylor had some high expectations heading into his third NFL season in 2022. Yet, while there have certainly been performances reminiscent of his elite 2021 campaign, a variety of factors — injuries, shuffles along the offensive line, etc. — have limited Taylor's productivity now as the 2022 regular season enters its final phase.
His numbers entering Saturday's Week 15 road matchup against the Minnesota Vikings are certainly nothing to sneeze at — he's played in 10 of the Colts' 13 games and has collected 192 rushing attempts for 861 yards (4.5 avg.) and four touchdowns on the ground. With solid health, Taylor is certain to earn a 1,000-yard rushing season for a third straight year to begin his career, and he would be flirting with entering the top 10 in NFL history for the most rushing yards by a player in their first three years.
Similarly to the Colts' performance as a team this year, entering the Vikings matchup with a 4-8-1 record, Taylor acknowledged Wednesday his season has seen its share of adversity, but the fact the Colts have four games left means there's plenty of time left to get back to form.
"Talking to a lot of the older guys who have seen a lot of ball and seen a lot of scenarios of one, how to approach it and two, what are some scenarios that can come out of it?" Taylor said when asked if the 2022 season has been a "learning experience" of sorts. "They've seen teams fall apart when they go through adversity like this, and they've also seen teams that have come back and fought. You can just see the fight in them whether it was the last six weeks or four weeks, whatever it may be.
"So, then it kind of pondered on me, 'What do I want to contribute to this team for these last weeks?' I want to fight and that's the vibe in the locker room as well. We're not going to try and let this crumble. We want to fight until the very end."
Looking inside the numbers, there's a chance Taylor could be the benefit of several carries on Saturday — especially if the Vikings continue their trend of employing light boxes on defense.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Vikings enter Saturday's game with the third-highest light box rate (64.3 percent) among all NFL defenses since at least the 2016 season. Accordingly, Minnesota has allowed 1,138 rushing yards when using a light box this season alone, the most in the NFL.
Of course, the Vikings also aren't playing the likes of Taylor each week, so it'll certainly be interesting to see how the two coaching staffs play chess with that particular matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Justin Jefferson enigma
As good as Jonathan Taylor has been his first three seasons at running back, Justin Jefferson has been his match at wide receiver over that same span.
In his first 46 career games, Jefferson has amassed 295 receptions for 4,516 yards (15.3 avg.) and 23 receiving touchdowns. Through the first 13 games this season, only the Miami Dolphins' Tyreek Hill can approach Jefferson's production at the position: 99 receptions, a league-leading 1,500 receiving yards, and six touchdowns.
Like Taylor, it took a few weeks for Jefferson to really get going his rookie season in 2020. The Colts held him to just three receptions for 44 yards and no touchdowns back in Week 2 of his rookie year, a 28-11 Indy victory.
Lots has changed for No. 18 in purple since that point, however, and he has the full respect and attention of the Colts' secondary.
The Colts are allowing just 118.5 combined yards per game to wide receivers so far in 2022, the best mark in the league. They'll certainly need to keep that pace to even try to keep a guy like Jefferson at bay on Saturday.
"Very dynamic, can do pretty much any and everything," Colts safety Rodney McLeod Sr. told reporters Wednesday. "They feature him a lot so we have to know where he is at all times. It just comes down to competing, though. Knowing he's going to make some plays, we have to move on to the next one and make our fair share when we get an opportunity."
Wednesday's practice report: