As we enter the 2007 season, the position of least concern to Jaguars fans is running back. Everyone saw what veteran Fred Taylor and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew were able to do in '06, and it's easy to assume that the running game will be safe and productive in '07.While I agree this is true, the big question is: "Who is your starting running back?"
Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew? Both were very comparable statistically:
Fred Taylor: 231 carries, 1,146 rushing yards (5.0 YPC), 5 rushing TDs
23 receptions, 242 receiving yards (10.5 YPC), 1 receiving TD
Maurice Jones-Drew: 166 carries, 941 rushing yards (5.7 YPC), 13 rushing TDs
46 receptions, 436 receiving yards (9.5 YPC), 2 receiving TDs
As you can see, both were very productive on the ground averaging at least 5.0 YPC, which is superb. There seems to be a contingency of fans now that would rather have Maurice Jones-Drew be the starting running back because he seemingly could have out produced Fred Taylor with more carries. Whereas that's a certain possibility, I believe that limits both Jones-Drew's and Taylor's effectiveness. When Fred Taylor missed most of the final three games of the 2006 season and Maurice Jones-Drew was asked to be the full-time starter, he was still productive (56 carries, 275 rushing yards (4.9 YPC), and 4 touchdowns), but he was not nearly as effective. Jones-Drew's season average YPC was 5.7, which is nearly a full yard more than his final three games. Not only was Jones-Drew taking nearly a third of his season long carries in those three games, his role catching the ball was lessened and his return ability was decreased, due to Jones-Drew running on tired legs. Simply using Maurice Jones-Drew as a feature back limits his effectiveness. Many people refer to his cross-town college rival Reggie Bush as an "X-Factor", despite his lack of big plays. but, Maurice Jones-Drew is a real X-Factor. Drew can beat you running between the tackles, over you, around you, can take a screen pass 50 yards to the end zone, and return a kick off 90 yards to ice the cake. He is the true Mr. Everything, as long as he isn't overused. .
Like many people felt entering last season, I thought Fred Taylor was on his last leg. Taylor had come off a disappointing 2005 season where he clearly looked like a running back at the end of his career. Taylor was coming off of knee surgery and clearly was his normal, cut-back self. Couple this with the fact that 2005 back-up running back (and starting full back) Greg Jones, was coming off of some impressive showings while Fred Taylor was down with injury. His showings included games where he rendered a very good Cleveland Browns linebacker (Andre Davis) unconscious and forced one of the best defenses in the NFL (the Baltimore Ravens) to "Olé" him out of bounds instead of tackling him. Couple that with his first half slicing of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, and Greg Jones looked to be completely recovered from his college knee injury and primed the become the grinding running back coach Jack Del Rio had a sparkle in his eye for. Joking aside, Jack Del Rio looked like he was going to cry last season in the press conference after the preseason game against Tampa Bay, where Greg Jones tore his ACL, and was sidelined for the season.
I was one of the many people who said that it was possible that Fred Taylor could be a surprise camp casualty, much like Donovan Darius was this off-season. I'll admit when I'm wrong, and I was dead wrong. Fred Taylor came into camp in great shape, and played inspired football in '06. He did still miss a few games, but when he played, he was phenomenal. Taylor seems to be primed for another 1,000 yard season with the Jaguars in 2007, as he looked fit, fast, and trim in minicamps. With Fred Taylor's resurgence and the ability of Maurice Jones-Drew to effectively spell Fred Taylor, Taylor should remain the Jaguars starter.
There are a few benefits of having Fred Taylor as your starting running back. For one, Taylor is still an effective running back in the NFL, at least in the Top 12-15 among starters, and forces a defense to pay attention to him. While the defense is doing this, it allows new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to bring in Maurice Jones-Drew and utilize him in various ways. It allows Drew to split out wide to utilize his speed and catch and run abilities. It also allows Koetter to split Fred Taylor out wide, in hopes of finding the hands and pass catching abilities that he possessed in his early years. Because of Fred Taylor's continued ability to be a full-time running back, having him as the starter just allows for more flexibility with the offense. Taylor's health will be preserved with the ability to spell him with Drew and recovered Greg Jones. Couple this with the fact that Taylor carrying the load allows you to more utilize Maurice Jones-Drew's versatility. It's hard to argue otherwise.
In the grand scheme of things for the Jaguars it really doesn't matter who gets their name announced during introductions, just as long as the two running backs were used in a similar way as last season. They are both capable on their own, but the team is better with the platoon system that was used last year.