In a surprising move, the Jacksonville Jaguars just released Fred Taylor, quite possibly the greatest player in the history of their franchise.
The move was made to save cap space, rather than pay Taylor the $6 million he was due next year. Coming off of a season-ending injury, it's doubtful as to whether the 33-year old Taylor will get another job in the NFL. And if he does find a team, he probably won't be listed as the starter.
It's a shame that Taylor hasn't received more recognition from his peers and fans during his career. In an 11-year career, Taylor has been selected to one—just one—Pro Bowl ('07), and he was actually an alternate, but made it due to an injury. And that was at the ripe old age of 32.
In my belief, Taylor is one of the more underrated players of this generation. No, I take that back. Taylor is the single most underrated football player of this generation. If he played in a big market like New York, he would be considered a lock for the Hall of Fame. And he would probably have a ring.
Even so, Taylor has a pretty impressive resume and you could make a solid case for his Hall of Fame candidacy.
In the 80-plus year history of the NFL, there have only been 15 backs who have gained more career rushing yards than Taylor. With one more season of 1,000 rushing yards, Taylor would crack the top 10 all-time, surpassing the great Jim Brown in the process.
Of the 24 guys who have rushed for 10,000 yards, Taylor's 4.6 yards-per-carry ranks as the fifth-best, higher than notables such as Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith.
And how about this statistic? Taylor is one of only three players in NFL history to have seven seasons with at least 200 carries and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. The other two are Jim Brown and Barry Sanders.
That's pretty good company.
Taylor has topped 1,000 yards seven times. He's a big-play guy, ranking fifth in NFL history in runs of 10-plus yards (311). He's fourth all-time in runs of 50-plus yards (13). He doesn't fumble at all, losing the ball on runs just 13 times his career, an average of just over once per season.
For all his hard work, Taylor has only been selected to one Pro Bowl. He's never been an All-Pro. He's very under the radar. He hasn't won an MVP award like LaDainian Tomlinson, or broken the single-game rushing record like Corey Dillon (278) or Jamal Lewis (295) or Adrian Peterson (296), or rushed for 28 touchdowns in a season like Shaun Alexander. He's never played in a Super Bowl, and probably won't at this point in his career.
All he's done is just play football as best as he could.
And while he's never been the best running back in the league, and he's not always even in the conversation, Taylor has nevertheless been one of the top runners over the past decade.
He's put together a string of seasons that would make any running back proud. He's battled back from injuries his whole career. And he's been one of the best 30-and-over running backs in history.
Taylor's success story starts back in 1998 when he was a member of the Jaguars, and continues to now.
As a rookie in 1998, Taylor broke into the league with a bang, rushing for 1,223 yards while accumulating 17 total touchdowns, tied for third-most ever among rookies. He helped the Jags win 11 games and an AFC Central title. In the team's 25-10 playoff win over the Patriots, Taylor rushed for 162 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries.
Taylor helped the Jaguars set a franchise record with 14 wins in 1999, in securing an AFC Central title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
In the playoffs, Taylor rushed for 135 yards on 18 carries, including a 90-yard touchdown, the longest run in playoff history. Taylor also caught a pass for a 39-yard score, giving him 174 total yards and two touchdowns in a 62-7 win over the Dolphins and their eighth-ranked rushing defense.
Taylor had arguably his best season to date in 2000, rushing for 1,399 yards and 12 scores in just 13 games. He also led the NFL with an average of 107.6 rushing yards-per-game, while topping 100 rushing yards in each of the team's final nine games, the third-longest streak in league history. However, the Jaguars failed to make the playoffs and Taylor then missed virtually the entire next season due to injury.
Missing significant time from 1999-2001 earned Taylor the nickname “Fragile Fred” and heavy criticism from NFL experts, who said he would never stay healthy enough to be an every-down back. This was certainly justified, given that Taylor had missed 23 games in three seasons—nearly a season and a half in itself.
Taylor responded with three consecutive 1,200-yard rushing campaigns from 2002-2004, averaging more than 4.6 yards-per-rush in each year. He also proved to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield, catching averages of 40 passes for close to 375 yards in those seasons.
Injuries set him back a bit in 2005, but he still rushed for 787 yards without fumbling once, helping the Jags to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth.
Taylor would bounce back the next season, aided by Maurice Jones-Drew, a small power back who was drafted out of UCLA in the second round to complement the aging, but nevertheless productive Taylor.
In 2006, Taylor rushed for 1,146 yards and five scores, setting a career high with 5.0 yards-per-carry. Jones-Drew added 941 yards and 13 touchdowns on an outstanding 5.7 yards-per-carry, as the duo narrowly missed becoming just the fifth pair of teammates in NFL history to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Taylor and Jones-Drew helped the Jags finish in the top two in the league in rushing offense in both 2006 and 2007, before Taylor's injury and a weakened offensive line this past season dropped the Jags' rushing attack to 18th in the NFL.
These past few seasons, Taylor has gone from a full-time back to part of a two-headed back in Jacksonville. If anything, this has helped to extend his career.
There aren't many thirty something backs who can rush for 1,000 yards—multiple times actually—and all while averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that he is one of the few great running backs who was not overworked during his prime.
In 11 seasons, Taylor has received more than 300 carries only once (345 in '03). He's actually touched the ball fewer times in his whole career than L.T. has, despite entering the league three seasons prior to Tomlinson.
I'm not particularly a Jaguars fan, or even a Fred Taylor fan for that matter, but I felt I should give respect to one of the greatest running backs ever to play the game. I hope Taylor gets another job in the NFL. He has stated that he wants to play until he passes Jim Brown on the all-time rushing list.
I think Taylor can do it, and I feel he has too much to offer a team to not get signed.