Saturday night the Pro Football Hall of Fame will again open its exclusive gates and enshrine the seven-member class of 2017. Pro Football Weekly is highlighting them all, continuing with former Dolphins, Jets and Washington DE-OLB Jason Taylor.
Credentials: NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2007. Six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. NFL sacks leader in 2002 (18.5). Regular-season stats: 578 tackles, 139.5 sacks, 68 passes defensed, 8 interceptions, 40 forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns. Six fumbles returned for touchdowns are the most in NFL history.
Long, athletic and tenacious: A third-round pick from Akron by Jimmy Johnson in 1997, Taylor arrived at the NFL without much fanfare. His magnetic smile, imposing length and flexibility and trademark relentlessness ensured he wouldn't fly under the radar long.
Taylor, the first Akron product to receive a gold jacket, quickly established himself as a consistent force coming off the weak-side edge. A former basketball player, his long, slender frame (6-6, 244) prevented left tackles from winning the initial hand fight, and helped Taylor begin stacking sacks in bunches. He had 9 in Year Two and, by Year Four, his rush reperoire evolving, he entered double digits (14.5) — a feat he'd replicate six of the next eight years.
Miami went to the playoffs in Taylor's first five seasons, averaging a top-five defensive finish from 1998-2001. He'd never play another postseason game for Miami again, however, stymied by Tom Brady, the quarterback he sacked the most in his career, and the Patriots.
"The games against Jason are some of my most (well, maybe least) memorable," Brady recalls. "He is one of the greatest opponents I’ve ever faced, having had the “pleasure” of looking across the line and seeing him on the opposite side of the ball, not once, but twice each season for a decade. While I entered the league with a healthy respect for Jason and the incredibly talented Miami defense he led, my admiration for him as a player and a person only continued to grow with each play; each game; each season.”
Taylor was dealt for a pair of draft picks to Washington in 2008, the same year Miami won its first division crown in eight seasons. Over that span, he became not just a monster pass rusher but takeaway specialist — 34 of his 40 career forced fumbles and six of his eight picks came in this period. He also became a movable chess piece, with the intelligence to line up in different spots and special athleticism and fluidity to thrive in an evolving role.
Taylor was the league's defensive MVP in 2006, when he logged a career-high nine strips, two interceptions and two defensive scores, but they were largely wasted by the NFL's 29th-ranked offense led by backup QB Joey Harrington en route to a 6-10 season.
Taylor's time with the Dolphins wasn't always perfect: in addition to the the lack of postseason trips and a Super Bowl, he was discarded not once but twice in his final seasons. But his enshrinement Saturday marks a near-perfect career finish for one of the greatest Dolphins ever.
Quotable: “I never saw anyone disrupt an offense like Jason, and I never saw anyone more competitive," said former teammate Zach Thomas. "He was a great teammate who demanded the most out of everyone he played with and made each of them a better player. That’s truly the mark of a Hall of Famer.”