Editor's note: Clark Judge and Pete Prisco are traveling to every NFL training camp and filing daily reports and analysis. Next camp report from Prisco: Buccaneers
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sitting on a bench outside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium last week, the sweat from a morning practice still rolling down his forehead, Fred Taylor stared at me with a puzzled look. My question stumped him for a second, just as it had the many others who tried to answer it.
|Fred Taylor stands alone in so many ways. So why doesn't he get the deserved credit? (Getty Images)|
"Barry?" Taylor answered. He paused. "And Jim Brown?"
He nailed it, which is more than most of the others who answered can claim. Amazing stat of the year is this: Barry Sanders and Jim Brown are the only two runners among the top rushers of all time who beat Taylor in both of those categories. Taylor's combo numbers are better than those of Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton and 14 others.
That includes eight members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and several others who will get there when their time comes, players like San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.
So why is it that Taylor isn't even considered a Canton candidate, especially with plenty of good football left in his 32-year-old body? A 1,000-yard season in 2008 will move Taylor past O.J. Simpson, Corey Dillon and John Riggins on the all-time rushing list. Taylor has 10,715 yards to place him 17th, yet he's not even mentioned among the game's greats.
"I never thought about being a 10,000-yard back," Taylor said. "But then last year when I got there I realized how special that was in a lot of ways. I'm up there with a lot of great players. Now I want to get to the elite."
It's mystifying, the media-wide naiveté when it comes to Taylor's accomplishments. Brown averaged 5.2 yards per rush in his career, Sanders was at 5.0 and Taylor is at 4.7, tied with Tiki Barber for third best among the top 20. The per-game average has Brown tops at 104.3, followed by Sanders at 99.8. There are others who have better per-game averages than Taylor's 84.4, including Tomlinson's 95.9, but their per-rush average isn't as good.
Ask the scouts and coaches. Yards per rush and yards per game might be the true gauges to a back's greatness.
"You have to be efficient in what you're doing to be able to sustain that over time," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "To see what he's doing is special."
|Out of Nowhere Man|
|Cornerback Isaiah Gardner didn't get drafted coming out of Maryland, where he was a two-year starter, but he has impressed in camp. He has good size at 5-11, 195 and he has showed off some cover skills. He has outplayed fifth-round pick Trae Williams. If Gardner can show well on special teams he has a chance to make the squad.|
|Who is your Out of Nowhere Man?|
Yet as Taylor readies for his 11th season, he does so with more respect from the league's players than he gets from the media and the fans. Some Jaguars fans even think he's the second-best back on the team to Maurice Jones-Drew, a fan favorite. That notion is plain silly.
Ask the players, coaches and general managers in the league about Taylor and watch their faces light up. The coaches and GMs would love to have him, while the players respect him greatly.
The media isn't so sure. They call him Fragile Fred, a name that stuck early in his career when he missed a combined 21 starts in 1999 and 2001. In the past five seasons, he has missed nine starts and four of those, according to Taylor, were team decisions. For example, he sat out the season finale in 2007 against Houston because the Jaguars were locked into playoff position.
"He's a monster on the field," Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker said. "A lot of people don't give him the credit he deserves. Freddie T is somebody I've looked up to since he was at Florida. I don't know why the fans don't give him his due. I know it's not the players. The players give him love. They know how great a player he is."
|One man vs. One fan|
DFWPirate : "That Jags schedule is no cakewalk, but I see them winning at east one playoff game again...and that is saying a lot in the AFC. Those WRs need to be healthy too."
Parker showed his respect last December. After suffering a season-ending broken ankle against the St. Louis Rams, Parker pulled out his cell phone and called Taylor from the locker room. He wanted to tell Taylor that he was out, which meant no Pro Bowl, and that Taylor, as the first alternate, would be taking Parker's spot in Honolulu.
"I was in tears and everything," Parker said. "I just wanted to tell him what had happened and that he deserved it. I told him he should have been in the Pro Bowl before that anyway and he wasn't just going because of the injury. He earned it."
Said Taylor: "Having the respect of my peers is a lot more important than from some guy who never played the game."
It's too bad the peers don't vote in the Hall selection process. The writers do. And it will take some work to get Taylor's respect level up with them. Several I've spoken to in the last month about Taylor say he needs to do more to even get into the Hall conversation. Others flat out say no way.
Here's something that might change that thinking: Brown once said he thought Taylor was the best back in the league. To Taylor, that meant as much as anything he has accomplished, including going to his first Pro Bowl last season.
"For him to say that about some kid from Belle Glade, Fla., meant so much to me," Taylor said,
His respect for Brown is the reason why Taylor has targeted him on the all-time rushing list. He wants go past him. For that to happen, Taylor needs 1,598 yards. Can it happen this year?
Positives: Garrard is a smart, polished passer with excellent mobility and a decent arm. His new receivers should boost his passing yards and touchdowns. While it's hard to expect him to keep up his ability to not turn the ball over, Garrard shouldn't go Joey Harrington on you. Plus, it helps that Garrard will run for a handful of yards and is always a threat to score a touchdown on the ground in the red zone.
Negatives: No matter how good of a quarterback Garrard becomes, the Jaguars will be a run-first team so long as Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are healthy. And speaking of health, Garrard has never played in more than 12 games over the course of a season, meaning that if you draft him, you better have another quarterback to go with him.
Outlook: Considering that his stats have trended up over the last three seasons, the writing is on the wall that he could turn into a nice stat producer for Fantasy owners in 2008. The injury history is a concern, but Garrard has too much upside to ignore. He's a top-end No. 2 Fantasy QB and is good enough to platoon as a starter in deeper leagues.
-- Dave Richard
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew (27th overall)
QB: David Garrard (87th overall)
WR: Jerry Porter (123rd overall)
TE: Marcedes Lewis (232nd overall)
|2008 Fantasy Draft Prep|
"I don't put numbers on a season, but it could," he said.
There's no reason to believe Taylor is slowing down, even at age 32. The beard might have some more gray in it, but Taylor is as good as he's been. He trains hard in the offseason and his body bulged out of his white shirt as he did the interview for this story.
Taylor's reputation is that of an explosive player, his ability to rip off the big run putting the fear in all opposing defenses. He lived up to that rep last year when he averaged 5.4 yards per rush. That was the best of Taylor's career and was second among the league's top rushers to Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, who averaged 5.6 per carry.
"I don't know how you can't appreciate what Fred's done," Del Rio said. "I've been here six years. He's been an awesome stud the whole time I've been here. The people who watch the tape really do appreciate him. Maybe he doesn't get the due because we haven't been in a Super Bowl. He's starting to get the notoriety. The team was down a couple of years back and that might have been a reason. Even great players don't get the attention on down teams."
Taylor is fifth in NFL history with 311 rushes of 10-plus yards and ranks fourth with 13 rushes of 50-plus yards. He had four 50-plus rushes last year, tying him for most in the league.
There is no sign of any slowing down for Taylor. The only thing that has is the emergence of Jones-Drew. Some say the youngster has helped Taylor lengthen his career. Maybe so, but he also takes away carries. At times, Taylor has admitted to being frustrated by it, but he's never one to make an issue of it. He also has been pulled on the goal-line in his career, which has hurt his rushing touchdown (61) number.
"I'm not happy about it, but I'm not one to bitch and moan," Taylor said.
He's too good a guy. After the 2007 season, Taylor was nominated for the good-guy award given out by the Pro Football Writers Association. He should have won. There are few players more accommodating or honest. He lost out to Brett Favre, who didn't even give his local writers the time of day, big-timing them for the national media.
Taylor never big times anybody. That's not his style, which is why it's so easy to like him. I've known him since he came into the league and to see him get to the elite level of runner is not really a surprise. The skills have always been there. The impressive thing is how he has developed those skills and matured as a man.
Is the Hall in his future? If he gets to Brown's numbers, and his per-carry and per-game averages stay high, it would be hard to keep him out.
"That certifies it," Del Rio said.
Probably not, but it should. Brown, Sanders, Taylor.
"That's elite company," Taylor said. "I hope to get there."
Fred, you already are. It's just too bad that few know it.