The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ike Taylor in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Taylor played his college football at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and after walking on in 2001, he played well enough as a running back and special teams ace, that the college elected to put him on scholarship. Prior to his senior year, he switched to cornerback and his 6 foot 1, 195-pound frame immediately became an advantage at the collegiate level.
Heading into the 2003 NFL Draft, Taylor legendarily ran a 4.18 40-yard dash at his Pro Day because he was not invited to the NFL Combine. An inexperienced first year corner at a small school was not on many NFL teams’ wish list heading into the draft, but his speed at his Pro Day opened a few eyes and minds, notably those belonging to Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher.
Taylor was coached by the world class speed coach, Tom Shaw, who later filmed him running a 4.26 40-yard dash and he called Taylor the ‘fastest player’ he ever coached. By comparison, the 4.26 40-yard dash means that he was faster than the Hall of Fame cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Champ Bailey. Despite his speed, when the Steelers called his name in the fourth round of the draft, Mark Madden who was writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time scribbled the following:
“The Steelers made history Sunday. They made their worst draft pick ever. Taylor was a tailback at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2001, making the team as a walk-on. Taylor’s draft profile on NFL.com says he did not play in 2000 because he ‘concentrated on academics.’ Before that, he was a Prop 48. Before that, he was dumb. Probably still is. Probably not dumb enough to pick himself in the fourth round, though. This pick makes no sense. On a scale of one to 10, Ourlads Scouting Service gave Taylor a one. They projected him to be drafted when hell froze over.”
April 30, 2003, Madden actually wrote those words. He is known for over-the-top hyperbole, and he did come from a professional wrestling background, but this just gets worse with age. Madden is often wrong, but this may be his worst take ever, and that is saying something.
Taylor was a special teams player during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh and did occasionally find the field in nickel and dime packages on defense. However, in 2005, Taylor earned a starting cornerback position for the black and gold and for the better part of nine seasons, he was a fixture on the Steelers defense. It was not coincidental that his arrival in the starting lineup set off a chain reaction of three Super Bowl appearances in five seasons for the Steelers.
Taylor was not only a solid cover cornerback, but he was an intimidating physical presence on the field. He could hit and unlike other cover corners was not a liability in the run game.
Taylor never made a Pro Bowl in his NFL career. By his own admission, he had historically bad hands, and if they kept track of dropped interceptions instead of passes defended, I am sure he would hold the all-time record. Taylor did have a flair for the dramatic though as during his first season as a full-time starter in 2005, his redzone interception of Matt Hasselbeck was a key play in the Super Bowl XL victory.
The Steelers were so impressed with his progress that just prior to the 2006 season which was Cowher’s last as a head coach, the Steelers signed him to a four-year $22.5 million dollar contract that made him the highest paid Steelers cornerback in franchise history. Taylor went out and promptly laid an egg. He did not play well and was eventually benched, falling to fourth on the Steelers depth chart. Taylor may have been pressing too hard to show he had earned his contract, or it just might have been a sophomore slump as a starter. Either way, the contract looked like a bad decision and Colbert had potentially saddled his rookie head coach, Mike Tomlin, with a serious issue in his defensive backfield.
Tomlin’s presence seemed to renew Taylor’s confidence and by the close of training camp, he had risen back up to number one on the depth chart. He had a fantastic season for the Steelers and won his first Defensive Player of the Week Award and scored the only touchdown of his professional career after intercepting Marc Bulger and returning it for 51 yards. The Steelers returned to the playoffs, but lost 31-29 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Taylor however, extended his postseason interception streak to three consecutive games despite the loss.
Taylor would go on to star for the Steelers in two more Super Bowl runs in 2008 and 2010 and was the unquestioned top cornerback for the team during this time. His contract was up, and the Steelers again re-signed him to a four-year contract worth $28 million dollars. Taylor played well during the 2011 season, and he had always been a clutch performer in the postseason. Heading into a showdown in Denver against the often-maligned Tim Tebow, it seemed that Pittsburgh was in a very good position to shut down the passing game. However, after a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger managed to get the game to overtime, the unthinkable happened and Taylor got beat on a quick post route by Demaryius Thomas and the Steelers season was over. It was the last postseason play in Taylor’s career.
Taylor is 23rd all-time in passes defended according to Pro Football Reference. He is credited with 134 passes defended in 140 starts, but he managed only 14 interceptions during his career. That resulted in just a little over a 10 percent interception conversion rate. The stat has only been kept since 1999, so it is unfair to compare Taylor and Sanders in the category. The all-time leader in the category is Bailey with 203 passes defended in 212 career starts. Bailey converted 52 of those opportunities into interceptions which was good for a little over a 25 percent conversion rate. However, in the postseason is when Steelers legends are born. Taylor defended 11 passes in 11 career postseason starts and converted 3 interceptions for a staggering 27 percent conversion rate. Conversely, Bailey in 10 career postseason games converted 2 of 9 passes defended into interceptions for a 22 percent conversion rate. Taylor saved his best play for the postseason.
Looking back at his career, Taylor is haunted by the 2006 season and the painful Denver overtime debacle. However, it is hard to believe that in 2005 when he was top five in the league in passes defended or in 2007 when he was seventh in the league, he did not find his way into a Pro Bowl. Cornerbacks are often judged by interceptions, but Taylor took the opposition’s best player week over week for almost a decade and with one notable postseason exception was highly successful. Taylor is not going to make the Hall of Fame, but I believe he should be a strong candidate for the Steelers Hall of Honor as the third best cornerback in Steelers history behind Mel Blount and Rod Woodson.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Should Ike Taylor make the Hall of Honor? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.