As we inch closer to Week 1, two high-end fantasy stars remain major question marks amid contract controversies. Raiders back Josh Jacobs, frustrated with the franchise tag, has yet to report to Raiders camp. Jonathan Taylor’s situation with the Colts is even more contentious as he’s been granted permission to find a “suitable” trade partner by Tuesday.
Deciding how to approach both of these backs in upcoming fantasy football drafts will prove to be one of the first monumental decisions gamers must make in 2023.
The state of affairs with Jonathan Taylor
Let’s start with Taylor who, again, seems to be much closer to burned-bridge territory with his current team. The Colts have put Taylor on the trade block but will reportedly only move him for a Round One pick or a package of picks that equal that level of value.
I tend to doubt they’ll find a suitor willing to part with such assets and be ready to hand Taylor the extension he’s after, particularly by their Tuesday deadline.
So let’s live in the world where Taylor remains in Indy. Even if Taylor plays in Week 1 and rebounds from a down 2022 campaign, there are major fantasy-only questions about his role. Anthony Richardson taking over at quarterback is fundamentally going to change the entire Colts offense. We know mobile quarterbacks rarely feed targets to their running backs and that was never Taylor’s calling card (2.4 catches per game in his career) to begin with. A 20-catch season is within his range of outcomes.
Taylor’s elite fantasy season in 2021 came on the back of elite rushing efficiency and touchdown production. The first pillar should remain in a buddy approach with Richardson, who will attract defensive attention himself, but the second is a question mark. It’s tough to imagine Taylor accounting for double-digit touchdowns if Richardson siphons red-zone work as a runner, which is a near lock.
Not having access to receiving work and scoring area production cuts the margin for error for a fantasy RB1 quite thin.
The state of affairs with Josh Jacobs
Then there is Jacobs. I officially moved Jacobs ahead of Taylor in my rankings because there is slightly less risk involved here when stacking the holdout guys. But there are still a few red flags.
Jacobs is a great back who should be able to amass another excellent season on the ground. However, he ran into a ton of light boxes and advantageous fronts in 2022 as defenses dedicated back-end attention to number-one wideout, Davante Adams. They picked their poison and elected to live with Jacobs running all over them.
Adams is still on the team but there is some passing game volatility overall with Jimmy Garoppolo taking over for Derek Carr.
Carr could be frustrating when he’d get to checkdowns too quickly but he’d gotten better about chucking the ball downfield in recent seasons. His willingness to push it vertically to Adams is a big reason the star wideout averaged a career-high in yards per reception in 2022.
The top concern with Garoppolo is and has always been his unwillingness and/or lack of ability to throw the ball deep and outside. If teams start to squat on short routes with Garoppolo under center, that brings safeties closer to the line with cornerbacks ready to fit Jacobs’ run lanes. For systemic reasons alone, Jacobs could be less efficient on the ground this season.
When can you consider drafting the star RBs?
Ultimately, I expect both Jacobs and Taylor to be on the field for the Raiders and Colts, respectively, in Week 1. But that isn’t the issue. If either of these guys suffers injuries — Taylor is already dealing with maladies that plagued him last season — how incentivized are they going to be to gut it out for teams that have given them zero long-term commitments? We could be looking at a pair of guys who would, understandably, elect to play it safe and shut down their seasons if their body is on the line.
That increases the risk for both players.
All told, there are serious questions in the portfolios of Jonathan Taylor and Josh Jacobs even if they weren’t currently engaged in standoffs with their team. For that reason, I won’t be the one to talk you into drafting them in Round Two if you’re nervous about the holdout factor. Truthfully, I like the wide receivers available in their range of ADP almost every time.
Taking the plunge on them in Round Three, well, that’s a different story and one I’d be open to. But I bet there will be someone in your draft room who won’t let them slide to that range.