Taylor built a Hall of Fame-caliber resume as a feature back in Jacksonville, and he's extended his career in a multi-back system in New England. In his prime, Taylor was among the best, and the Jaguars' offense revolved around his ability to rack up yards on the ground.
Yet, in the last half-decade, teams have shifted the way they use running backs, opting to split up the carries between a group. Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew were one of the first highly successful tandem when they combined for 2,087 rushing yards, 678 receiving yards and 21 offensive touchdowns in 2006.
Ironically, the Jaguars bucked the growing trend in 2009 when they decided to use Jones-Drew as a feature back and parted ways with Taylor. Now as a member of the Patriots, Taylor is part of a backfield that splits carries among four players, and he has grown fond of that philosophy.
"I think it's just the way it's going to be at that position going forward," Taylor said. "I don’t think there are going to be any more backs that carry the load for a five- or six-year period. I think they'll just have backs splitting time, which will take away from the numbers that backs are allowed to put up.
"I don’t have a problem with it. My last couple years in Jacksonville, I would always say it was a blessing in disguise for me. I was doing less but still being just as productive as I've been, and that’s the key, as long as the production doesn’t slip too much."
Taylor, who is 34 years old, wasn’t sure if the philosophy would help running backs extend their prime years into their 30s — as a widely-accepted rule of thumb, backs hit a steep decline once they turn 30 — but he knew it at least prolonged his stay in the NFL.
Teams are trying to protect their investments and provide some more solidarity in their offense with a set of running backs. For instance, if running backs Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson went down with a serious injury, the Titans and Vikings, respectively, would have to completely redesign their offensive game plans. However, if DeAngelo Williams (Carolina), Ronnie Brown (Miami) or Marion Barber (Dallas) were lost for the year, each of those teams would be in position to plug in their counterparts (Jonathan Stewart, Ricky Williams and Felix Jones, respectively) and keep the ship moving in the right direction.
The Patriots added Taylor last season as a complementary piece, but he gained some steam with a 105-yard performance in a Week 3 victory against the Falcons. When Taylor suffered an injury a week later, the Patriots didn’t skip a beat and simply gave more carries to Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk.
While having a feature back is the more exciting alternative, Taylor understands that that time has basically passed. Ultimately, he's also at the stage of his career when he can embrace it. Even if he's a little bit skeptical of the forward thinking, particularly when owners might be less willing to spend as much money for the best players at the position, Taylor has accepted one of the NFL's newest trends.
"[Teams] are grooming that position to have guys who almost balance out, just in case one guy goes out," Taylor said. "Some guys are just elite, where if something breaks down, they can do a little extra. But I think if you have a dual-back threat, it benefits your team a little more than having, I guess, one main guy that has to play first, second, third down. Then if he's out, you're in panic mode. An example would be Carolina. They have two very, very good backs [in Williams and Stewart]. You will see teams do more of that and do more of paying less at the position."
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