Fred Taylor will retire tomorrow as an honorary member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team with which he spent the first 11 seasons of his 13-year career. And I suppose it’s appropriate that news of Taylor’s retirement seems to be flying under the NFL radar, because many of Taylor’s on-field accomplishments did the exact same thing.
Maybe it’s because he failed to win or advance to a Super Bowl in Jacksonville, but Taylor put up some star-like numbers with a franchise in its infancy.
You could argue that he, Mark Brunell and Jimmy Smith put the Jags on the map. The team won its only two division titles in Taylor’s first two seasons, but luck was never really on Taylor’s side. Injuries derailed his career smack dab in the middle of his prime in 1999, 2000 and 2001. When he finally returned to form in 2002, the Jaguars were no longer serious contenders. But despite a lack of support on offense, the guy managed to rush for at least 1,100 yards in five of the next six seasons.
By no means is Taylor a Hall of Famer, but with more fortune in his back pocket he might have been a part of the Canton conversation.
He retires in the No. 15 spot on the league’s all-time rushing list, which some might argue inflates his reputation. Long-term stability is part of the criteria for what makes a great running back (see: Emmitt Smith) but short bursts of dazzle are also required (see: Barry Sanders). What many wouldn’t guess is that Taylor fared pretty well in the rest of the rushing categories, too.
He’s 15th on the rushing yards list, but only 21st on the rushing attempts list. His 76.4 yards per game mark is higher than Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, Thurman Thomas and John Riggins. He averaged more yards per carry than Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen. He scored more rushing touchdowns than O.J. Simpson and Larry Csonka.
Am I cherry-picking these stats to bolster Taylor’s image as he walks away from the game? Maybe to a degree. But who can blame me? In addition to being one of the best running backs of his era, Taylor is one of the classiest dudes in professional sports.