Fred Taylor surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards on Sunday, becoming the 21st NFL back to crack the milestone during the Jaguars' 28-13 victory over the Titans. However, there's another number on the 10th-year halfback's stat sheet that blows me away even more: 2,187 carries.
Taylor, a swift, assertive runner out of Florida taken ninth overall in the 1998 NFL draft, was the ultimate tease in his early years – a guy who seemed capable of being a superstar … if he could just stay healthy.
Between 1999 and 2001, Taylor missed 23 of the Jags' 48 regular-season games with various groin, hamstring and other nagging injuries. He was nicknamed "Fragile Fred" and seemed destined to be one of those talented players who didn't last long in the league and left fans wondering what might have been.
But Taylor adjusted, changing his running style and finding a way to remain relevant even after the Jags found a young runner, '06 second-round pick Maurice Jones-Drew, who is talented enough to be the team's featured back for years to come. In fact, barring injury, Jones will likely get to the Pro Bowl – an honor Taylor has never been afforded.
"I think all those injuries helped me to become a smarter runner," Taylor said Sunday evening. "Early in my career, a lot of those muscle injuries came from disregarding my body. I'd run recklessly, make sharp cuts – whatever it took. I just didn't care. Back then, if defenders were in front of me, I'd attempt any move. Now, if I'm up against two guys, I tell myself I'm not going to beat them and I just go down."
Taylor still gets his open-field thrills – vicariously, through the low-to-the-ground Jones-Drew. "I'm on the sidelines screaming, 'Get down, get down! They're coming!' " Taylor said, laughing. "He breaks so many tackles when he runs. But he's smart about it, too."
That potent two-back attack is one reason the Jags have been able to survive the high ankle sprain that has kept starter David Garrard out the past three games and remain in the heart of the AFC's playoff hunt. Of less significance is where they rank in our weekly, top-to-bottom trip through the league. Before I begin, I'd like to address a question that many readers are fond of asking: "How can you possibly put so-and-so team at number whatever when they're clearly better than so-and-so team?"
Here's how: I open my laptop. I open Microsoft Word. I create a file entitled "32 Questions." I type so-and-so team's name and question and move on to the next team.
Moving right along …
4. Green Bay Packers: Is there a better defense in the NFC?
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: Will all those people who bagged on Big Ben last season please offer a Big Mea Culpa?
9. Detroit Lions: Given their brutal schedule over the next four weeks (including games against the Giants, Packers and Cowboys), could this team be headed for a second-half fade?
11. Cleveland Browns: They're a lot better than they were in Week 1, aren't they?
17. New Orleans Saints: Will y'all please make up your minds?
23. Carolina Panthers: Hey, Vinny – do 44-year-olds like blitzes?
25. Baltimore Ravens: In homage (sort of) to the city's former NBA franchise, should this team be renamed the Baltimore Blanks?
28. Oakland Raiders: OK, Lane (and Al), you're 2-7 – can we please see the kid already?
30. New York Jets: With a Dec. 2 game at Miami sandwiched between six tough opponents, could this team surpass the Dolphins in the race for the No. 1 NFL draft pick?
31. San Francisco 49ers: Did the Raiders' 2006 offense sneak across the Bay over the offseason?
32. Miami Dolphins: If the Dolphins get popped for having supplied opponents with video of their own coaches giving signals on the sidelines, will Don Shula demand an asterisk?