Where Are They Now: Former Gators Great RB Fred Taylor
As gifted as they come, former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor turned into a living legend on the gridiron.
Prior to enrolling at the University of Florida, Taylor set records at Glades Central High School in Belle Glade (Fla.), eventually being recognized as one of the "100 Greatest Players of the First 100 Years" of Florida high school football by the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association), rushing for 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.
The thing is, Taylor wasn't even supposed to be a running back. In high school, Taylor served as the team's linebacker, switching to running back just after his sophomore season. His ability on the gridiron was special, to say the least.
While at Florida (1994-1997) Taylor immediately made his presence known to then-head coach Steve Spurrier. Still relatively new to the position, Taylor was unable to crack the team's full-time starting lineup until his senior season. Regardless, Taylor was able to rush for 873 yards and eight touchdowns on just 173 attempts during his freshman season.
Taylor's collegiate career wasn't perfect, while he did not get in any serious trouble, there were a couple of instances of rules violations that landed him on the suspended list for the opening day of his sophomore and junior seasons. One for buying pizza with a stolen credit card, another for throwing eggs at a house. Juvenile, but enough for his head coach to take notice.
In an article written by former Los Angeles Times journalist, Steve Springer, Taylor told the Times he owed a lot to Spurrier, for not only allowing him to play and to excel but to keep him on the right track at a young age.
“I consider him not just a coach, but a friend,” Taylor said of Spurrier via the LA Times in 2000. “He was always there for me. He would go with me [to disciplinary hearings], which he didn’t always do for others. He believed in me. He went to bat for me.”
Spurrier indeed believed in Taylor who would then become one of the greatest Florida running backs of all time, perhaps second only to Emmitt Smith. Certainly one of the most electric.
When Taylor was finally able to get into his own groove and gain a full understanding of the running back position, he never looked back. During his senior season at Florida, a year after he helped bring the Gators a National Championship in 1996, Taylor was no longer was splitting time with former Gators running backs Elijah Williams or Terry Jackson.
No, Taylor was the featured back and showcased his full potential with a prime opportunity. During his senior season, Taylor rushed for 1,292 yards and 13 touchdowns, finishing his career with 3,075 total rushing yards (ranked fourth all-time in team history) and 31 touchdowns (fifth).
For his career, Taylor would eventually be inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
A shifty running back, Taylor evolved his game in college, adding power to his repertoire. With his size at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, and track speed (4.29 40-yard dash at the Gators pro day), his first-round status upon entering the NFL was no surprise.
Taylor would be drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in ninth-overall in the 1998 NFL Draft and would elevate his game even further.
The former Gators great would become a Jaguar great seemingly overnight. Posting the 10th-best rushing yardage as a rookie with 1,223 yards in arguably the greatest era of running backs was unheard of. In 1998, running backs such as Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Eddie George, and Curtis Martin lead the pack, and Taylor wasn't far behind.
Taylor's shining moment in the NFL wouldn't come until the following season after the Jaguars defeated the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round of the 1999-2000 playoffs. Taylor would have what is now known as one of the most memorable runs in Jaguars' history, breaking off a 90-yard touchdown on the 19th play of the game.
The game would ultimately end in a 62-7 victory which would also become Dolphins legend Dan Marino's final game of his career.
While Tayor's career in Jacksonville was historic, a rash of injuries during the start of his career, ultimately costing him 24 of the first 64 regular-season games of his career, would earn him the completely unfair, and unjust moniker of 'fragile Fred'.
This nickname, if one would even call it that, has been ingrained into his career, and is even listed on Pro Football Reference's website.
While Taylor did miss games, his injuries were proven to be legitimate years down the line, after a rash of misjudgment by the Jaguars' organization during such time, underselling one of Taylor's most infamous injuries in which he tore his groin completely off the bone in 2001.
Nevertheless, Taylor would still enjoy a Hall of Fame-worthy career, finishing 17th on the NFL's All-Time rushing yards list with 11,695 yards, including seven seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards as the Jaguars running back. Taylor remains the team's all-time leading rusher.
Every player, other than active NFL running back Frank Gore ahead of Taylor on the list is currently in the Hall of Fame.
Taylor's career in Jacksonville after the 2008 season, nearing the end of his 11-year playing career. He would go on to play two more seasons with the New England Patriots, seeing action in only 13 games.
Taylor is currently one of only three running backs in NFL history with at least 4.6 rushing yards per attempt with at least 2,500 career carries (4.62 yards per attempt), including Jim Brown, Sanders, and current Washington running back Adrian Peterson, according to Pro Football Reference.
Sanders, of course, is already in the hall of fame, with Peterson surely to follow five years after his retirement.
Playing in the greatest era for running backs in history has had its shortfalls for Taylor's aspirations of reaching the Hall of Fame, his rushing yardage is fringe, and he was never thought of as "the best" running back in his playing career, he never lead the NFL in rushing yardage in a season.
Taylor made the Pro Bowl only one time in his career (2007), and was a second-team All-Pro for the same season.
Nevertheless, Taylor was announced as a semi-finalist for the Hall of Fame in 2019, the first time since he became eligible in 2016. Taylor did not make the finalist list, and may never do so, however, he absolutely believes he should.
“Obviously I think I belong,” Taylor said on NFL Network in November of last year. “It’s not in my hands. I think the voters, after doing a deep dive, they’ll understand that I belong there too. I really believe I had a solid career, and hopefully the writers will understand that one day.”
Perhaps one day Taylor, who currently works part-time for the Jaguars' broadcast department, will reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but for now, he will remain one of the Gators' all-time best players and an absolute Gator great.