If he were still alive, Sean Taylor would have turned 34 years old today.
Born on this day 34 years ago... pic.twitter.com/mwM7CqYjPd— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 1, 2017
His death was a crushing blow to the hearts of fans and members of the NFL community alike, and it still reverberates with many of us to this day.
Losing Taylor has had an effect on many of us on an emotional level, but it has also been devastating for the Redskins' defense. In truth, the quality of play at the safety position for the Redskins has yet to recover, after what has now been nearly ten years since his untimely death.
In honor of Sean Taylor and his birthday, I thought it would be appropriate for us to take a look at some of his most amazing statistics and to examine the void left by his loss on the Redskins roster, a void that the team has not even come close to filling.
REMEMBERING SEAN TAYLOR
Before we dive into how the team has fared at safety following Taylor's death, let's take a few minutes to remember the talent that we lost and what could've been if he were still with us today.
Still Playing Today?: Believe it or not, but there is a good chance that Sean Taylor either would've either just retired as a Redskin or still been a member of the team. If his career would've played out anything like some of the greatest safeties in league history, then he might've either hung em' up just a few short weeks ago or begun preparations for his final NFL season.
Just check out how long some of the top safeties played for, and keep in mind that Taylor would have just finished his 13th season and turned 34 years old.
|Career Length & Final Season Ages of Top NFL Safeties|
|Player||# of Seasons||Last Full Season Age||Final Season Age|
College: In his final year at Miami, Taylor picked off a whopping ten passes. Only six other safeties have accomplished that feat since at least 2000. Five of those six players have gone on to play in the NFL and all six of them were drafted.
Draft: Sean Taylor was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. He is one of just ten pure safeties to have been selected with a top-5 pick in NFL history, with just six of them coming since 1963.
That group of six consists of Taylor, Hall of Famer Kenny Easley, another Miami legend in Bennie Blades, Rickey Dixon, Eric Berry and Pro Bowler Eric Turner, who also died in the middle of his playing career.
Athleticism: Taylor was truly a freak of nature. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at 230 pounds. We can put that in perspective by using the speed score metric to adjust for his weight. I looked at every Pro Bowl and All Pro safety since the year after Taylor's death (2008), and his speed score of 111.2 is only officially topped by three players in that group of over 30 players: LaRon Landry (116.8), Earl Thomas (114.1) and Michael Huff (113.9).
Taylor only trails Landry if we also adjust for height. Troy Polamalu (4.30 40-yard dash and 120.5 speed score) is said to of also been ahead of Taylor in this regard, but I could not find any truly official 40-yard dash times for him.
NFL Awards: In his Age-24 and final season, Sean Taylor earned first-team and second-team all-pro honors from the Pro Football Writers of America and the Associated Press respectively. That year, he also became the first player in NFL history to be posthumously selected to the Pro Bowl. That was Taylor's second straight Pro Bowl selection.
He was one of just 15 pure safeties that I was able to find that earned two pro bowl bids by their age-24 season. Only ten of those players were also named an All Pro during that time frame. The list of 15 includes all-time greats like Troy Polamalu, Paul Krause, Mel Renfro, Kenny Easley, Mark Carrier, George Atkinson, Roy Williams and Eric Berry.
THE EVER-ELUSIVE ROSTER RECOVERY
They say that time heals all wounds, and that is true in many respects. However, at least so far, the Redskins have yet to recover from the loss of Sean Taylor's presence on the field. Here are several sets of stats that prove that point.
All Pros: The Redskins have not had a safety named to an All-Pro team in any capacity since 2008 (the first full season after Taylor's death). This includes both first and second-team honors from the Associated Press, Sporting News and the Pro Football Writers of America. Just 11 other teams have gone without a single All Pro since 2008. Meanwhile, six franchises have had multiple All-Pro players during that stretch.
Pro Bowlers: Every year many more players are named to the Pro Bowl than to All-Pro teams, so you would think that the Redskins wouldn't fare as poorly in this regard. However, in typical Redskins fashion, they have. Not one Redskins safety has been selected to the Pro Bowl since 2008. Only eight other teams have failed to see one of their safeties be named to a Pro Bowl in the last nine years. There have been 17 clubs with two or more different Pro Bowl safeties in that period.
PFF's Best: The Redskins are the only team in the NFL that has not had a safety finish in the top 30 of Pro Football Focus' grading at the position in each of the last five seasons. LaRon Landry and Reed Doughty are the only safeties that have finished in the top 12 (once each) for the Redskins since 2008.
Revolving Door: Speaking of Landry and Doughty, they are the only two Redskins safeties to have seen over 2,000 total snaps on defense since 2008, per PFF's data. Only the Titans, Bears, Lions, Ravens and Colts have had so few safeties play 2,000 or more snaps. Landry and Doughty are also the only safeties to have worn a Redskin uniform for over 1,500 snaps during that time. No other team in the NFL has seen fewer than three safeties play at least 1,500 snaps. That's not a good look for the Redskins.
To further illustrate just how much the safety position has resembled a revolving door in Washington since Taylor's death, consider that the Redskins lead the NFL with 15 players with over 500 snaps as a safety and 18 different players with over 400 snaps at safety since 2008. The NFL averages for number of 500 and 400-snap safeties since then are 10.4 and 11.4 such players.
Pass Defense Nightmare: This isn't just about awards, lack of continuity or even advanced stats; this problem can be seen even in some of the more traditional statistics, as well.
First, let's discuss the team's defense against tight ends, a position that is primarily covered by safeties and linebackers. As you can see in the table below, the Burgundy and Gold rank in the bottom 12 in virtually every raw statistic against tight ends since 2008 (targets, receptions, yards, touchdowns and adjusted catch yards).
And the numbers are just as bad when we look at the team's passing defense as a whole.
|Redskins Overall Passing Defense Values & Rankings Since 2008|
|WAS Ranking||13th||12th Worst||4th Worst||8th Worst||5th Worst|
|Redskins Defense Vs. Tight Ends Values & Rankings Since 2008|
|WAS Ranking||9th Worst||6th Worst||3rd Worst||12th Worst||2nd Worst|
A NEW HOPE?
Washington has clearly struggled to find adequate replacements for Sean Taylor at safety. However, with Su'a Cravens moving to safety and the addition of D.J. Swearinger in free agency, there seems to be a new-found sense of optimism among Redskins fans. Is this new hope warranted or is it fool's gold? Let's take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of the top safeties on the roster to figure it out.
Su'a Cravens: Cravens played great for the Redskins as a 21-year old rookie last season, but is he ready to man the strong safety position full time? I believe that he can, but I also have my doubts.
He only exclusively played safety full time for one season between both high school and college (freshman year at USC). He is also a poor athlete compared to the average NFL strong safety.
D.J. Swearinger: Swearinger was PFF's 9th highest graded safety last season. The problem is that was his first full year ranking inside the top 100 at the position. It was also the first season in which he has played primarily at free safety. A position that many say is not his best fit in the NFL.
Did he perform well in 2016 because of the myriad of talented players surrounding him on the Cardinals defense, because it was a contract year or was it because he had finally figured out how to play in the NFL. We'll soon find out if he's a one-hit wonder or a long-term answer for the Redskins.
Senior Citizen Safeties: DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon were the 7th and 12th oldest defensive backs to play in an NFL game last season. They were both injured last year and they are both free agents in 2018. I'll leave it at that.
Bench Warmers: Deshazor Everett has shown some promise, but it's tough to tell what you really have in a guy who has only played on 76 career defensive snaps. Josh Evans (2,268 snaps) and Earl Wolff (600 snaps) have seen much more time on defense, but both players have performed abysmally according to PFF grading. Everett and Evans are also both free agents next season.
Big Picture: If Su'a Cravens and D.J. Swearinger pan out as starters then the Redskins will be in a great position at safety for several years to come. Cravens and Swearinger will be 22 and 26-years old respectively when the season starts, and both players are under contract for the next three years.
The issues here are that both players are unproven at the safety positions that they are being asked to play and that all of the depth is either too old or in the final year of their deals. As such, the Redskins would be wise to invest in the safety position in the upcoming draft.
MAKING THE REDSKINS' DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD SAFE AGAIN
Part of the reason that the Redskins have had such a difficult time replacing Sean Taylor is that they haven't invested that much draft capital to do so.
The Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins are the only teams in the NFL that have not spent a top-100 pick on a pure safety (not a converted player like Su'a Cravens or Byron Jones) since 2008.
If we drop it down to a top 75-pick then the only other team that we can add to that list is the Bengals. This has happened while 20 of the other 29 teams in the NFL have spent at least one top-50 pick on a safety.
It's time for the Redskins to solidify a safety position that has been in shambles since Sean Taylor's death nearly ten years ago; and to do it, they'll have to pony up some draft capital.
Below you'll find a PFF stat for a few safeties that would be worth spending a draft pick on. We'll focus on guys that excel in coverage and that might be best suited to fill the free safety spot. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of the players that could help the Redskins in what looks to be a very deep safety class.
- Malik Hooker (Ohio State): Malik Hooker led college football with seven interceptions and only allowed two receptions of 20 yards or more.
- Marcus Williams (Utah): Williams earned the sixth highest coverage grade among college safeties last year. He also ranked first in yards per coverage snap and playmaker index (interceptions and passes defended as a percentage of targets).
- Justin Evans (Texas A&M): He received the site's third highest coverage grade at the position.
- Eddie Jackson (Alabama): Jackson is a former cornerback that ranked sixth in passer rating allowed and fifth in yards per coverage snap
- Tedric Thompson (Colorado): Thompson isn't a big name, but his first-place ranking in coverage grade and passer rating last season stand out.
- Nathan Gerry (Nebraska): The former Cornhusker ranked second in both coverage grade and playmaker index.
REST IN PEACE
The great Sean Taylor would have turned 34 years old today.#RIPSeanTaylor pic.twitter.com/iXjbY8920d— NFL (@NFL) April 1, 2017
*All statistics are courtesy of CBS Sports, College Football Reference, ESPN, Football Outsiders, Mockdraftable, NFL.com, NFL Draft Scout, Over the Cap, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference*