Fred Taylor turned his attention on New Year's Eve to the 2002 season, and he liked what he saw.
"I think we'll have the best backfield in the league with the three of us," Taylor said of himself and teammates Stacey Mack and rookie Elvis Joseph.
Taylor's season ended with a groin injury early in the second quarter of the second game of the season, and so did the Jaguars' playoff hopes. But Taylor's absence this season has allowed the emergence of Mack and Joseph as significant backfield weapons and, all of a sudden, the Jaguars appear to have quality and depth at a position where there was previously only Taylor.
"They shouldn't draft a running back. They don't need to. My situation is going to be taken care of. We have other positions that are a necessity. It doesn't take a genius to see that. Running back isn't one of them. That's the last position. That's just my opinion," Taylor said.
He makes a valid point. Mack has rushed for 811 yards and nine touchdowns, 10th-best in the AFC, and Joseph has come out of nowhere to add 275 yards rushing and 17 pass receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Add a healthy Taylor to the equation and the Jaguars might, in fact, have one of the league's best threesomes next season.
"When I get back, we will be the best backfield. Denver was, but everybody's banged up. St. Louis is good. I'll give it to the Jets. I'll give the Steelers second," Taylor said.
Taylor's return to health is certainly the key to the Jaguars' running back situation next season, but Mack will become a major figure this winter. He will be a restricted free agent and the Jaguars could lose him to a team impressed by Mack's 2001 performance.
The Jaguars are expected to extend a "low tender" offer of $560,000 to Mack. Such a "low tender" will give the Jaguars right of first refusal and original draft choice compensation, though, in Mack's case he was an undrafted free agent.
What all of that means is that if Mack received an offer from another team for, say, $750,000, the Jaguars could retain Mack by matching that offer. Otherwise, they would lose Mack.
"I want him to come back. I want him to be here," Taylor said of Mack, with whom Taylor has developed a close relationship this fall. "I want Elvis to be here.
"Stacey's a power guy. Elvis is a better receiver than both of us," Taylor said. Of course, Taylor has already proven his ability to be one of the league's best big-play runners.
"They got the first rights to me. I've love to stay," Mack said of his contract situation.
Even though the Jaguars are cap-strapped, re-signing Mack may be less expensive and more rewarding than drafting from a college crop of running backs that is thought to be thin.