Jonathan Taylor was a PlayerProfiler darling coming out of college, with The Podfather’s destruction of Nate Liss on a mock draft podcast being the quintessential flag-planting event. We now sit here roughly a year and a half later and Taylor has established himself as the best running back in the NFL. Care to disagree?
Okay, so you want to be Nate Liss while I play The Podfather (the annihilation begins at the 45-minute mark) and tell me that Derrick Henry or the often-injured Christian McCaffrey is the best running back in the National Football League. Or maybe you want to double down and still believe in Clyde Edwards-Helaire? Ok, but seriously let’s dig in and have a look. First a quick reminder about how last year ended. In Weeks 12 through 17, Taylor finished as the RB1, averaging 26.1 Fantasy Points Per Game. He beat out league winners Henry, David Montgomery, and finally Alvin Kamara, who had a six-touchdown game mixed in there.
Fast forwarding to 2021, King Henry had been tearing up the league prior to his foot injury this last week. Unfortunately, that will likely sideline him for the rest of the fantasy season. He was averaging an impressive 24.2 PPG. McCaffrey has averaged 19.5 PPG over the three games he’s played this season, which coincidentally is the same number of games he played all of last season. Taylor has averaged 19.1 PPG through eight games this year.
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, what really separates Jonathan Taylor from these other two and makes him the best running back in the league is his stats that are talent-based.
First and foremost, Taylor is healthy. He has only missed one game so far in his career and that was Week 12 of last year when he was on the COVID-19 List. Our friends Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey have both suffered significant injuries this season. The best ability is availability.
Next, we look at one of my favorite stats: Yards Created. It is a great metric to seperate what the running back himself is creating and what the offensive line and others are blocking for him. If we set a baseline of 10 touches per game to qualify, Taylor leads the league with 4.69 Yards Created Per Touch (YCPT). Essentially, he is the best running back in the league at actually creating yards, which I think most people would agree is important when it comes to both fantasy and real football. McCaffrey checks in second at 4.16 YCPT. The third is Saquon Barkley at 4.14 YCPT. Those three are arguably the three best prospects to come out of college in the last decade, so you can see why this is an important stat for analyzing running backs.
Expected Points Added
Next, we will look at Expected Points Added (EPA). This is a relatively new stat. I saw it myself for the first time this offseason when doing my yearly preparation with the 2021 Sharp Football Preview, where it was heavily leaned on for Warren Sharp’s evaluations. The clinical definition of EPA is that it measures the value of individual plays by calculating the expected points scored based on the down, distance, and field position at the start of a play and contrasting with the situation at the end of the play. RotoUnderworld’s own Josh Larky added it to PlayerProfiler’s treasure chest of advanced stats and metrics this offseason, and wrote a great article breaking down it’s use and importance in analyzing the real football value a player adds and also it’s correlation to fantasy points.
Guess who leads the league at Running Back in EPA? That’s right, it’s your soon-to-be new King, Jonathan Taylor. He has a whopping +29.93 EPA. If we use the same 10 touch baseline, the next guy in line is another PlayerProfiler favorite in Tony Pollard at +18.41 EPA. A distant third is Christian McCaffrey at +14.17 EPA. It bears repeating that Taylor’s EPA is literally double that of McCaffrey’s. The importance of this is to be the best running back in football you need to be more than a fantasy points compiler. This points to Taylor being not only the best fantasy football running back, but also the best running back in “real” football.
We know Jonathan Taylor creates yards when he’s running the ball. We know he helps his team score points. Finally, we look at how he is doing in the passing game. For that, we’ll look at yards after the catch per reception (YAC/PR). The reason I choose this metric is, like the others, it’s something that is pretty independent of other players’ actions and allows talent and skill to be the propeller for the production. I couldn’t possibly find that he is also the most productive in this area as well, could I? Welp, turns out he is. Our new king averages a league-leading 14.7 YAC/PR. We will use a slightly different baseline here since it’s receptions we’re looking at, so with a 1 target per game baseline, the next best YAC/PR producers are James Conner at 11.4 and Salvon Ahmed at 11.1.
And the icing on the cake?
In Week 9’s Thursday night game, he further cemented his status as the league’s top back going for 200 total yards and two touchdowns vs the Jets.
After digging in, we saw Taylor was the number one fantasy producer down the stretch last year. He is creating the most yards out of any running back this season. He is the most valuable running back in terms of adding points to his team’s success this season. Lastly, he has the most YAC out of any running back this season. I would say that makes him the best running back in the league. King Jonathan, First of his name. He should be the 1.01 in any non-superflex dynasty startup for the foreseeable future, and if he continues with the absolute domination in his efficiency stats, he will be the 1.01 in both redraft and best ball as well.
While digging into the data, J.D McKissick kept popping up. He didn’t have quite enough carries to qualify, but he does have a decent enough volume that his numbers can’t just be discarded.
Removing any baselines McKissick had 5.12 YCPT (No. 1), 21.1 EPA (No. 2), and 9.7 YAC/PR (No. 25).