Offseason Preview: Healthy Taylor provides stability at RB

Feb. 8—INDIANAPOLIS — The 2023 season wasn't easy for Jonathan Taylor on or off the field.

He spent the spring and summer in a contract dispute with the Indianapolis Colts — even going so far as to ask to be traded during training camp — and he was placed on the physically unable to perform list for the first four games of the regular season with complications stemming from an ankle injury that cut short his 2022 season.

A thumb injury cost the 25-year-old three more games just as he was heating up late in the season, but Taylor's final performance was unforgettable.

He rushed for 188 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry as he attempted to will the Colts to victory in a 23-19 defeat against the Houston Texans that denied Indianapolis a playoff spot in the regular-season finale Jan. 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The result wasn't what the team or its star running back wanted, but it served as a stark reminder of why the Colts ended the contract dispute by making Taylor one of the highest paid players at his position in the NFL. And it provided renewed optimism for what might be yet to come for the 2021 league rushing champion.

"Jonathan Taylor being a Colt was the right thing," general manager Chris Ballard said of the ultimate outcome of the contract stand-off. "He's going to — I will tell you this, and I kind of felt this all year, I would be shocked if we're not about to see real greatness out of him here going forward."

With Taylor leading the group, the running back position is in strong hands for the next three seasons.

But it won't be ignored during this soon-to-be busy offseason.

Evan Hull, a rookie who missed the final 16 games of the 2023 season with a knee injury, and Tyler Goodson, a young speedster with upside as a multi-faceted weapon out of the backfield, are the only other running backs currently under contract.

Zack Moss, who stepped in ably during Taylor's absence and spent much of the season among the top-10 rushing leaders, will be a free agent in March.

Moss figures to have plenty of suitors after leading the Colts with 794 rushing yards and scoring five touchdowns on 183 carries. The 26-year-old proved he has what it takes to be the featured running back for a franchise, and the opportunity to compete for that role is likely to be greater elsewhere.

Any additions to the backfield are likely to come through the draft or the later waves of free agency.

The focus is squarely on Taylor and the tandem he can form with second-year quarterback Anthony Richardson.

It's a prospect the Colts were salivating over from the day Richardson was selected with the fourth overall pick last April, but the pair only played two snaps together during the 2023 season.

In 2024, Richardson and Taylor could be the engine that drives Indianapolis' offense.

"Just watching him do what he does, it's amazing," Richardson said of the star running back. "I watch his highlights when I get home. Just watching him (against the Texans), it was amazing because I can only imagine myself in the offense with him, opening up some things for him with my legs as well. Only time will tell.

"I'm excited to get on my grind. This is going to be a big year for all of us. I'm definitely excited to start grinding and get back on the field so we can get those touches together."

Taylor rushed for 741 yards and seven touchdowns in just 10 games in 2023, but his 4.4-yard average per carry was the lowest of his career. Much of that can be attributed to the acclimation process after the ankle injury and contract talks kept him off the field — even for practice — for 10 months.

Richardson played just 173 snaps before going on injured reserve Oct. 8 but rushed for 136 yards and four touchdowns during his brief time on the field.

A healthy combination of the star running back and dual-threat quarterback for an entire season provides the hope much of the 2024 season will be built on.

"I mean, you saw Jonathan (against Houston)," Ballard said. "The more guys you have that can create those kinds of explosive plays — you saw what Anthony did when he was able to run. It changes the dynamics of how people defend you."