Fred Taylor was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars virtually by accident with the ninth overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Taylor was the second running back drafted in 1998, as the Chicago Bears selected Penn State running back Curtis Enis with the fifth overall pick, the running back that then Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin seemingly wanted in the draft.
Coughlin attempted to trade up in the draft, as he reportedly coveted Enis and the Jaguars had two first-round picks, thanks to trading quarterback Rob Johnson to the Buffalo Bills for their first round pick. No one in the top half of the Top 10 would take a "reasonable" offer however, and the Jaguars had to "settle" with the wide-eyed Florida Gators running back who clocked a 4.29 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Early in Taylor's career he wasn't very comfortable with the media, shy, and often didn't talk much during practice.
"Here comes Fred Taylor jogging into the huddle and he still hasn't said a word since he's gotten into training camp," former Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli told the Florida Times-Union. "The next thing I know, a few plays later, he broke it down the sidelines [52 yards] and scored a touchdown. From that moment, I think everybody looked at each other and said, ‘Here we go.'''
"I remember after Fred's rookie season I asked him if he thought he could get 2,000 yards. He said yes," former Jaguars beat writer and now CBSSports.com NFL Editor Pete Prisco told me. "I had a story. He never let me forget that."
Taylor's NFL career didn't get off to an immediate start however, as Taylor was backing up then starting Jaguars running back James Stewart. Oddly enough in the first game of the 1998 season, the Jaguars faced off against the Chicago Bears, the team who drafted Curtis Enis. Taylor had just one carry in the game for two yards, while Enis had 12 carries for 77 yards.
It didn't take long for Taylor to break into the starting lineup however, as Stewart suffered an injury in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens, which ended up being Taylor's break out game. Taylor ended the game with 23 carries for 123 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown run and catching 9 passes for 85 yards. After that, Taylor become the big play weapon the Jaguars thought they were drafting and ended the season with 1,223 rushing yards, 421 receiving yards and 17 total touchdowns.
If it had not been for some guy in Minnesota named Randy Moss, Taylor would have easily won the 1998 Rookie Of The Year Award.
Taylor continued to be a big play threat in the 1999 season, but began to deal with his first rash of injuries missing five games during the season. Taylor continued to be explosive in the 1999 post season, putting up 245 rushing yards and three total touchdowns in two games, averaging 6.6 yards per carry on the way.
Taylor followed up his 1999 year with one of the best years of his career during the 2000 season, rushing for over 100 yards in nine straight regular season games, including 234 yards and three touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers in old Three Rivers Stadium, a record that was buried with the stadium when it was demolished in 2001.
The 2001 season for Fred Taylor was one that would haunt him for the rest of his career, a season in which Tom Coughlin did a disservice to the 25-year old workhorse running back. In the second game of the season against the Tennessee Titans, Taylor went to the ground after making cut, fumbling the ball and looking like he was shot by a sniper in the rafters of then Alltell Stadium.
"Fred Taylor is the most under-appreciated player of this generation. He was big, fast explosive and made defensive coaches hold their breath every time he touched it. As good as Curtis Martin was, and he just went into the Hall, he wasn't as good a runner as Fred. Fred's career average is special. I really believe he should be in Canton. I hate the talk that Fragile Fred is who he really was as a back. The guy had a muscle tear off the bone and the coaches made him look bad saying he was week-to-week." - Pete Prisco, former Jaguars beat writer, CBSSports.com NFL Editor
Taylor had ripped his groin muscle from the bone on the play, but head coach Tom Coughlin listed Taylor as "questionable" every week for the rest of the 2001 season. Coughlin, trying to game the injury report system by making teams think they needed to prepare for Taylor, assisted in the unjustified moniker "Fragile Fred" that some local Jacksonville media began calling Taylor. Since Coughlin was not forthcoming with the severe nature of the injury and since Taylor didn't want to make a fuss publicly about his injury, the media were left to assume Taylor just had a minor injury that kept him out the rest of the season.
Despite missing only nine games in his final seven seasons with the Jaguars, including being held out the final week after the team locked up a playoff spot, Taylor continued to hold that unjustified moniker whenever something seemingly went wrong and some fans we're always ready to replace him because he "just couldn't stay healthy."
After the 2008 season, in which it was clear that Taylor's career with the Jaguars was coming to an end and the torch was being passed to now starting running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Taylor was released by the Jaguars despite offering to take a pay cut and be Jones-Drew's backup.
Taylor finished out his career spending two seasons with the New England Patriots, but while it looked like he still had gas in the tank and could still be a useful runner, he just couldn't stay healthy and ultimately retired. Taylor made his way back to Jacksonville however to officially retire with the team who drafted him in 1998, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Taylor finished his 13-year career with 11,695 rushing yards (11,271 with the Jaguars alone) putting him at 15th All-Time in NFL history. An argument could be made for Fred Taylor to be a Hall Of Fame candidate, but unfortunately unless he's a vote in by players, it's unlikely he will get that award.
"There are a lot of guys I've covered in this league, but as far as the entire package, ability, class, quotes, accessibility, and just being a heck of a guy, he's at the top of the list. Just for kicks now, I sometimes pop on some Fred highlights to appreciate his greatness. It's a shame more people didn't see it. If he played in New York, he'd be a slam dunk in Canton. He was Jim Brown's favorite runner for a reason. A true great on the field and even better guy off it." - Pete Prisco, former Jaguars beat writer, CBSSports.com NFL Editor
Taylor will enter the Jaguars Hall Of Fame however, to be just the second ever player to be added to the team's "Pride Of The Jaguars" joining former left tackle and first ever draft pick of the Jaguars Tony Boselli.