By Bryan Dietzler
I have done a lot of looking at the safety position over the last few months because of the writing that I do about the Chicago Bears. I had been looking at draft prospects at the position and comparing them to players of the past. What I found was that there was not one player out there who could compare to the late Sean Taylor. Taylor was, perhaps, the greatest safety to play the position. Just watch any of the videos of his highlights on YouTube and you will see just how effective he was. He made plays, he took advantage of opportunities and he was one of the most feared defenders of his time.
Taylor played up until a few years ago so that many current football fans will remember him. Anyone who watched any of the games that he played in would be treated to a clinic on how the safety position should be played. Whether it was tipping the ball away at the last moment to stop a completion or hitting the ball carrier so hard they fumbled, Taylor showed us what a good safety should do.
Taylor’s life was one of the best defenders of our time. And he was taken too soon.
The following is a brief look at this life as a football player. We will reflect on the positive things that Taylor did as a football player.
Sean Michael Maurice Taylor was born on April 1st, 1983 in Florida. He grew up with his great grandmother in Homestead, Florida to start but then began living with his father when he turned 11.
Taylor started out playing his high school football at Miami Killian High School but ended up going to Gulliver Preparatory School. He played two ways while he was in high school and helped to lead his team to the Class 2A State Championship in 2000. Taylor played safety, linebacker and running back. He did extremely well at all three positions.
He was one of the highest rated high school players in the country as he started to close out his prep career. Taylor was named the number one prospect in Miami (by the Miami Herald). Taylor also received a lot of praise from other media outlets for his performance in high school. He was sure to be one of the most sought-after recruits by colleges across the country.
Taylor chose to go to his hometown college the University of Miami. He played in the secondary as a true freshman and was named the Big East Special Teams Player of the Week once. He was a part of the Miami team that won the 2001 college national championship. In 2002, Taylor ended up starting and earned second team All-Big East honors for his efforts. Taylor was very productive and was one of the Hurricane’s best defenders that season.
In 2003, Taylor had his best season as a Miami Hurricane. He posted ten interceptions for the season, which led the nation. Taylor also made plenty of big plays. Some of the honors that he won the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award, he was named a first team All American and was nominated as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.
Football was not the only sport Taylor played at “The U.” He was a member of the track and field team and did very well in the 100 and 200-meter dash.
Taylor decided to forgo his senior season at Miami and enter the 2004 NFL. Traditionally, safeties had not been taken that high in the draft but Taylor would challenge that precedent. Taylor ended up being taken fourth overall by the Washington Redskins. He would prove that being taken that high in the draft would not be a mistake.
Taylor and the Redskins agreed that to a seven-year 18-million-dollar deal. He did have a rocky start, however, as he did not attend some of the rookie symposium training that is held before the start of training camp. There would be moments in his career where he would step out of bounds giving him some grief from the Redskins and the NFL.
In his very first NFL game, a preseason game against the Denver Broncos, Taylor intercepted two passes taking one back for a score. He became the starting at strong safety in the third game of the 2004 regular season and had a solid first year. He ended the season with 89 tackles, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack.
In 2005, Taylor was a little less productive in tackles and interceptions but he raised his totals in sacks from one to two and had ten defended passes.
In 2006, Taylor upped his total in tackles to 126 and added three forced fumbles. He had some plays that impacted several games in a positive manner. Taylor made critical hits at critical times and made key plays when it counted. For his efforts in Week 12 of the season, he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. To cap off his honors for that year, he was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. Due to an injury, he did get to play in the actual game.
The 2007 season was sure to be a promising one for Taylor. He had been on his way “up” since coming into the NFL. Taylor was sure to continue his ascension into the ranks of the NFL’s elite.
In the early morning hours of November 26th, 2007, Taylor was at home when someone broke into his house and shot him in the upper leg. The gunshot pierced his femoral artery causing him to lose a lot of blood. He was taken by helicopter to the hospital where, following surgery, he ended up in a coma. Just a few hours after the surgery had been finished, he died.
The outpouring of grief over Taylor’s death was enormous. The NFL has its players wear a decal with Taylor’s number 21 on their helmets the week after he died. They could continue to wear it the next few weeks after his passing if they wanted. A moment of silence was given before the start of each game the week following his death.
Taylor was posthumously selected to the Pro Bowl and the NFL’s All-Pro second team that season.
The Washington Reskins went several steps further to honor Taylor. They emblazoned his number on their football field as well as in their Ring of Fame and their parking lot. They wore his number on everything and kept his spirit alive. In the game immediately after his death, a video profiling his career was played over the stadium’s video board system.
In 2008, almost a year to the day that Taylor died, the Redskins placed him in their Ring of Honor.
It would be interesting to see how far Taylor could have gotten had he lived. It’s a sure bet that he would have continued to keep earning more honors and would have become one of the best defenders in NFL history. It’s hard not to argue that he just may have been the best safety of the modern era. He did everything that a safety is supposed to do. He played the run tough, he could cover receivers but most of all, he made plays.
During his four-year career, Taylor racked up 299 total tackles with 238 of those solo and 61 assisted. He caused eight fumbles and recovered one. Taylor registered 12 interceptions returning one of them for a touchdown. Add two sacks and there you have Taylor’s four-year production. Imagine what he could have done had he lived to keep on playing.
Watching any of the available highlight reels of Taylor’s career will give you some insight into the career of one of the most versatile and productive safeties in NFL history. These videos are extremely fun to watch because you get to see what Taylor did game in and game out. He showed us what a real safety could and should do.
Sean Taylor will live on forever in the hearts and minds of NFL football fans. He was a great football player and someone that had a huge impact on the game of football.