Faceoff: Chester Taylor
Mark Wimer: Contrary to the beliefs of some, Chester Taylor is not a "career backup" player - he rushed the ball over 300 times as the Vikings' starter in 2006, with 303/1,216/6 rushing and also handled 42 receptions for 288 yards that year.
While it is true that Taylor has been playing "second fiddle" to Adrian Peterson since Peterson arrived in 2007 (and he was stuck behind Jamal Lewis in Baltimore back in 2003, when Lewis rushed for over 2,000 yards), he has contributed right around 100 rushes per season and 44 receptions per year in the complementary role while in Minnesota. Over the last two years, he's averaged almost nine yards per reception (101/399/4 rushing and 45/399/2 receiving during 2008, with 94/338/1 rushing and 44/389/1 receiving during 2009) - he's been heavily involved in the Viking's offense since he arrived in Minnesota. Anyone who handles the football well in excess of 100 times per year in the NFL is not a backup-caliber player.
The Bears gave Taylor a front-loaded contract that will pay him $7 million this year - far from a "backup" player's salary range. He is expected to compete for the top job in Chicago, and I think he is the better fit for the Mike Martz offense. He's far better at running between the tackles than Matt Forte - Taylor has a career 4.3 yards per carry average, with a 4.3 yards per carry average during his four years as a Viking (655/2,797/18 rushing during that time frame). In contrast, Forte has a career 3.8 yards per carry average (574/2,167/12 rushing to date), with a disappointing 3.6 yards per carry average during 2009 (258/929/4 rushing for the Bears last season). Taylor is a skilled veteran who was considered the gem of this year's free agent class, as he has the ability to stay on the field for all three downs. In short, he is one of an increasingly small group of running backs who have the potential to be a "featured" back in an NFL offense. The mere fact that he may be on the field for three downs consistently gives him a huge edge in fantasy terms over backs like Brandon Jacobs or Felix Jones, guys who are firmly in the clamps of a running back by committee approach on their respective offenses.
Every time Chester Taylor has been asked to carry the load for his two NFL clubs, he's done so quite well - much more handily than anything we've seen from Matt Forte during his brief NFL tenure. I truly believe that Taylor will win the top job in Chicago with little trouble.
Andy Hicks: There are three opinions at work when it comes to evaluating the prospects of Chester Taylor for the 2010 season.
- He takes over the starting RB role from Matt Forte
- Forte and Taylor split time in a true running back by committee (RBBC)
- Forte remains the starter and Taylor does what he has done in all but one year in his career to date and backs up and supports the starter.
I subscribe to position 3.
I do not doubt that Chester Taylor has a chance to see considerable playing this season, but I would bet against it. He will be the #2 back heading into the season. Matt Forte is the #1 guy despite suffering from a sophomore slump in 2009. Forte is an excellent receiver with 63 and 57 catches in his first two seasons and was carrying hamstring and knee injuries throughout last season. Given the impact he made in his rookie season when he accumulated over 1700 combined yards and 12 touchdowns, I'm inclined to give Forte the benefit of the doubt rather than go with the 31 year old career backup in Chester Taylor.
The addition of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator is also not the strongest hope for those expecting a renaissance in the Chicago running game. Even if Forte and Taylor share the ball, which I don't expect, how is this going to turn Chester Taylor into a relevant fantasy option?
The only way Chester Taylor becomes worth drafting is if he becomes the starting running back. Until that happens he is not worth entertaining unless you feel the need to handcuff him to Matt Forte. 31 year old starting fantasy backs are not that common, especially when their touches and yards per carry have declined in each of the last two years. Taylor has gone from a 5.4 yard a carry backup in 2007, to a 3.6 yard a carry backup, with half the touches.
In only one of his eight years in the NFL has Taylor seen more than one-third of his teams rushing opportunities? Could he do well if he were given the chance this year? Of course, but he first of all has to win the starting job.
Even if he does, and it's a big if, where are the rushing TDs going to come from? As Jeff Haseley pointed out in the Matt Forte player spotlight, taking the Jay Cutler/Mike Martz history there'll be 22-24 passing TDs, compared to nine rushing TDs. Not since Martz had Marshall Faulk at his disposal did rushing TDs exceed 12. Sure there'll be receptions, no matter if there is an outright starter or a tandem, but rushing attempts will also take a dive. Given the offensive line of Chicago, that may be a good thing. Matt Forte has been behind this line for the last two years; Chester Taylor has had the very good to elite Minnesota and Baltimore offensive lines to help him.
Regardless of whatever dollar signs are thrown around with his free agency signing, Taylor gives the Bears the "Break Glass in Emergency" option they lacked last season when Forte was limited by injury. He faces an uphill battle to see more than his usual 20 to 33% of the ball.
Forte played injured all season after injuring a hamstring in May and then suffered MCL damage on the same leg in Week 3. He played on and looked well below the form displayed in his rookie season. I'll forgive a young back one poor season and until the Chicago Bears make the change Forte has to be the dominant back.