The Jaguars had the second-ranked rushing attack in the entire NFL in 2007, and the combination of Taylor and Jones-Drew accounted for 1970 of the team’s 2391 rushing yards, which is better than 82%. Fred Taylor talked about sharing the rushing load with Maurice Jones-Drew—
"It works. He’s a blessing in disguise. The pounding? I don’t have to deal with the wear and tear. With Mo, I have all the faith in the world the offense won’t miss a beat and he’ll get the job done."
From an outsider’s view, that type of production is fantastic, and it would seem as if the team has nothing to worry about in their backfield. Despite the Jaguars gaudy numbers on the ground last season, it is a major unknown how much longer that will be the case in Jacksonville. The Jaguars star running back and face of the franchise, Fred Taylor, turned 32 years old in January. Although Taylor doesn’t appear to have lost much of any speed as referenced by his 1202 yard performance in 2007 which included five carries of 38 yards or better, he is still on the wrong side of 30, and there’s a very short list of running backs who have had productive years into their 30’s, especially at the age of 32. Last week Taylor did an interview with Jaguars.com and shared his thoughts about his future—
"I can play as long as I want. I really believe that. But I’m not going to play as long as I want. I watch these older players walk around. I don’t want to walk around like Shack Harris. I want to enjoy my family and my kids. There’s going to be an end one day. I want to honor my contract but that would be in a perfect world. Twelve years would be ideal," said Taylor, who will be in his 11th season this year.
There’s not much evidence to show that Taylor’s backup, the dynamic Maurice Jones-Drew, can’t be an every downs type of back. Jones-Drew has averaged 5.1 yards per carry over his first two seasons in the NFL, and his 26 touchdowns are among the league leaders over that period of time. Still, there are concerns about Jones-Drew’s 5’7", 210 lb. frame, and the NFL is quickly turning into a two-running back type of league.
Maurice Jones-Drew (Getty Images)
With Taylor’s career nearing its twilight, and this particular draft class considered especially strong at the running back position, it would behoove the Jaguars to take a proactive approach and select a possible replacement for the two-headed monster early in next weekend’s draft. Although the Jaguars don’t figure to go running back as early as round one, they could pull the trigger if either Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall or Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart slip to pick number 26. Scout.com NFL draft expert Tom Marino, a former NFL scout, had this to say about Stewart–
"He’s a big productive between the tackles runner who broke secured tackles and finished his runs. I liked his ability to get up in the hole and bounce it outside. He has good pad level and finishes his runs consistently."
It’s more likely that the Jaguars could be in the running back business in rounds two or three, and there is plenty of talent that should be available when the team goes back on the clock at picks #58, #71, and #89. Just a few of the prospects the team could be looking at are East Carolina University’s Chris Johnson, the University of Texas’ Jamaal Charles, Rutgers star running back Ray Rice, Tulane’s Matt Forte, UCF’s Kevin Smith, and Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice.
Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and Ray Rice are figured by most draft experts to be second-round selections, and they are smaller, quicker backs, who weigh in right around 200 lbs. Johnson is the fastest of the group, as he ran a blazing 4.24 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, the fastest number posted by any running back. Charles was a highly productive back in a fine line of former Texas Longhorn rushers, and Ray Rice was the most decorated of the three while at Rutgers, as he helped transform the Scarlet Knights football program into a winner, and was a Maxwell award finalist along the way. Here are a few of Tom Marino’s notes on Ray Rice–
"He has excellent take off and is quick to press the line of scrimmage. He moves in the hole and he has very good vision to take it to the house. Can make an immediate impact as a change of pace back."
Matt Forte, Kevin Smith, and Tashard Choice are all bigger backs that tip the scales close to 220 lbs., and are expected to be selected anywhere from the late second to early fourth-rounds. Forte is tall and lean, at 6’2", 217 lbs., and runs the fastest of this group as he posted a 40 time as low as the high 4.3’s. Kevin Smith is clearly the most accomplished player as he led the nation in rushing with nearly 2600 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior. Smith is a patient runner who has enough speed to get away from defenders. Choice is a downhill type of runner who has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career. Here’s what Marino had to say about Kevin Smith–
Kevin Smith, UCF (Reinhold Matay/AP)
"He has good vision, balance, and lower body surge. Can break secured tackles and finishes runs. Is not an elusive runner, but is strong legged. Underrated and underappreciated player. Not flashy, but does a lot of positive things."
With the recent talk by Fred Taylor of retirement, and a well-stocked assortment of running backs that will be available to the Jaguars in next weekend’s draft, it would seem almost irresponsible if Jacksonville didn’t take advantage and look for a future replacement in their backfield.