Spotlight - RB Fred Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars
Posted 8/25 by Jason Wood and Chase Stuart,
Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Jason Wood's Thoughts
Fantasy Rule #4,122 -- If a player has "major" surgery in the offseason and then doesn't practice for the entirety of training camp, you should exercise caution on draft day.
Fred Taylor, who had quietly shed the "Fragile Freddy" image by putting together three top 20 fantasy seasons in a row, has been sidelined throughout training camp as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. Originally thought to be simply a cleaning out of some scar tissue, it was later revealed that he had more extensive work done to repair some ligaments.
Yet, Taylor maintained from day one that he would be fine for the regular season. More telling was the Jaguars patience. They, by most accounts, had the chance to acquire Travis Henry from Buffalo but opted not to. Throughout the offseason, the Jaguars went out of their way to dispel any notion that Taylor was not the team's lead back. With LaBrandon Toefield, Alvin Pearman and Greg Jones his main "competition", it's clear that a) the Jags better be right about Taylor's health and b) he won't be used in a committee system if he's equipped to suit up.
Each of the last three seasons, Taylor has finished among the top 20 fantasy backs. That's particularly impressive when you consider how woefully ineffective the passing game has become. Last year opposing defenses could key on the run, and yet Taylor still ran for 1,224 yards at 4.7 yards per carry. There is no question that, when healthy, Taylor is among the rarefied tailbacks who can make plays regardless of his supporting cast.
So not forgetting Rule #4,122, I wouldn't absolutely avoid Taylor on draft day. Would I take him as my RB1 or RB2? No, if someone wants to do that, let them. But as a RB3 or lower? He's absolutely worth the risk PROVIDED he makes good on his promise and plays in the preseason game against Atlanta.
- Taylor has been a top 20 fantasy back five of seven seasons, including the last three
- New OC Carl Smith has promised a more aggressive downfield passing attack that's largely predicated on effective play action...in order to have good play action, you HAVE to remain committed to the run
- Taylor's offseason injury and past history as "Fragile Freddy" have lowered his ADP to an appealing level
- At 29 years old coming off ligament repair surgery, it may be unreasonable to expect him back at full strength to start the year
- If you do draft him and he succumbs to injury, you'll never forgive yourself
- Taylor's effectiveness at the goal line and as a receiver has waned in recent years
If Taylor is healthy, he's a top 20 fantasy option. But, you can't comfortably make that bet which means he's only worth rostering if you can draft him as a backup. In some leagues that will be feasible, in others, someone might feel confident he's going to be 100% at the start of the year and be willing to take him in the first few rounds. Let them, but if everyone runs scared, don't forget about his potential when you're building RB depth. Draft accordingly.
Chase Stuart's Thoughts
Fred Taylor’s had one of the most fascinating fantasy careers in recent memory. After starting just thirteen games in 1998 but still scoring 17 touchdowns, Taylor was considered the next great stud RB. In 1999, Taylor was hurt for most of the year but produced when healthy; his 90 yard TD run against the Dolphins was the longest in playoff history. In 2000 Taylor couldn’t stay healthy all year, but set a career high in rushing yards and ranked as the sixth best RB. The following season, a particularly nasty groin injury sidelined Taylor for the last fourteen and a half games.
Taylor was considered the ultimate boom or bust player – a RB that was perhaps the most explosive and talented in the league when healthy, but a guy that had missed 24 full games and parts of nine others due to injury in just four years. But then the unthinkable happened: Taylor remained healthy for the next 46 games, but wasn’t a dominant fantasy player. He had scored just 18 touchdowns the past three seasons, a far cry from his glory days when playing under Tom Coughlin. So is Taylor the flashy star talent that can’t stay healthy, or the consistent but unspectacular RB of the past few seasons?
Likely, he’s a combination of both. Another interesting aspect of Taylor’s career is that he’s averaged between 4.6 and 4.8 yards per carry in each of the six seasons in which he carried the ball at least 150 times. Here is where he ranked in yards per carry each year, relative to all NFL RBs with at least 150 carries:
1998 – 4th out of 27 RBs that qualified
1999 – 4th out of 28
2000 – 4th out of 29
2002 – 6th out of 34
2003 – 7th out of 31
2004 – 5th out of 32
There’s no doubt that a healthy Taylor remains one of the most talented runners around; the fact that his yards per carry average has been so consistently high speaks to his remarkable skills. But will he be healthy this year? Despite a very lengthy and cloudy off-season, the most recent reports show that Taylor is on target to return to full health following surgery, and will start in week one. However, he has been sitting out of some practices may not play in any pre-season games.
- The Jaguars’ team trainer (and Taylor’s personal trainer) said that the star RB is healthy and extremely motivated to have a big year.
- When healthy, Taylor is still a dominant fantasy RB. He will run for a high yards per carry average, and as the best player on the offense, he’ll get many touches. Taylor’s one of only four players (LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and Clinton Portis) to rank in the top 10 in yards from scrimmage in both 2003 and 2004.
- The Jaguars offensive line is loaded with both quality and quantity. While the lack of an effective passing attack prevented the Jaguars from scoring much in 2004, the unit is particular strong at run blocking.
- The biggest negative with Taylor relates to his injury history. Even if Taylor is ready for week one, there’s always the possibility of a setback once the season starts. Additionally, the Jaguars may lighten his load to keep him healthy, but that might hurt his fantasy status.
- Taylor’s had problems getting into the end zone lately, particularly last year. He had just two rushing touchdowns last year, while RB Greg Jones had three.
- Taylor should start seeing less action in the passing game, as the Jaguars spent their previous two first-round picks on WRs.
- Will he be rusty when he returns? Missing lots of live action can’t be considered a good thing heading into the season.
Taylor is definitely a risky pick in fantasy drafts this season. Fortunately, his health status has been well publicized, which has caused his average draft position to drop in nearly all leagues. As of early August, he was the 52nd player drafted on average, and the 28th RB. If Taylor is hurt all year, he’ll be a huge bust for a 5th round pick. If Taylor can stay healthy all year, he’ll likely represent great value for a 5th round pick.
I expect Taylor to be slowly worked into the season. He will probably miss a few games due to injury, and will not be given a heavy workload until the end of the season. If a hypothetical draft took place tomorrow where the only weeks we played our fantasy season were weeks 9-16, I’d place Taylor in my top 20 picks overall. His end of season numbers may not be great, but he could help your team down the stretch.
Quotations from the Message Board Thread
To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there),
Is he going to play 16 games this year? Nope. But then again 5 out of 7 seasons in the NFL, he's finished in the top 20 RBs (8th, 11th and 20th the last 3 years). He might not play 16 games, but it's tough to not see some value in an RB who has averaged 1370 rushing yards and averaging 4.6 yards/carry over the last 3 years.
He only scored 3 TDs last year but Jacksonville only scored 9 on the ground the whole season. Both numbers should improve. If Freddy T can get in the 6-8 TD range to go with 1500+ yds and 35+ receptions you have struck gold in the late 4th, early 5th round. I'll bet he does.
Colin Dowling (FBG Staff):
I'm starting to warm up to Taylor this season. To me, the most telling thing is that the team doesn't have another option. They lost out on Henry and then *silence*. It strikes me that Del Rio is bound to be thinking its time to make a push to the playoffs for this team. They can't do that without a running game, and they don't' seem to be eager any more to add someone else or move Greg Jones to tailback. I would imagine that this indicates that they think Taylor will be ready to rock sooner then later.
Fred Taylor Projections
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