Taylor's Ready to Be a Hit

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2004

In most years, the conventional thinking is that a safety is not worth the fifth or sixth pick in the NFL draft. It is not regarded as a premium position, a spot from which a player can make enough game-changing plays to merit such a lofty draft status.

Sean Taylor, however, is the sort of safety who will lead teams to shove convention aside. Scouts, coaches and NFL executives say that the University of Miami product compares favorably with Roy Williams, the Dallas Cowboys safety who was selected to the Pro Bowl as a second-year pro last season after being chosen with the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft from Oklahoma.

Taylor will change the defense of the club that drafts him Saturday, NFL talent evaluators say, the way Williams changed a Dallas defense that ranked first in the league last season.

"Roy Williams is tremendous,'' Arizona Cardinals Coach Dennis Green said at the late-February NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "You're talking about that kind of player, except he's faster. He'll make more plays on the ball. Roy Williams is probably a heavier hitter, but Sean Taylor is a ballhawk."

Some scouts maintain that Taylor has the potential to one day be mentioned in the same breath as Ronnie Lott, the Hall of Fame cornerback-turned-safety who won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s and was selected to 10 Pro Bowls. Taylor was only 11 when Lott played his final NFL game in 1994 with the New York Jets, but he knows what such talk means.

"Ronnie Lott did a lot of great things,'' Taylor said at the combine. "That's a big name. I don't know. Wow."

The Washington Redskins, who have the fifth overall choice in the draft, are a top contender to select Taylor. The Redskins have talked to teams in front of them about trading up, likely in pursuit of Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery. But they have a league-low three draft picks, and an agent for one of the top players available in the draft said over the weekend he expects the Redskins to stay put.

"They're sitting where they're sitting," said the agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize any future dealings with the Redskins. "They're going to pick fifth. They've got no ammo [to trade up]."

An NFL general manager, speaking on the condition that he not be identified so as not to tip his team's draft-day hand, said in recent days that he expects the Redskins to stay put and draft Taylor or his former Hurricanes teammate, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. The GM said he expects the Detroit Lions, who pick sixth, to choose whichever of the two Miami players is left.

The New England Patriots -- who have five of the first 95 choices, including two late first-rounders -- have talked to the Lions about trading up to sixth, and reportedly covet Taylor. If they would trade up to get Taylor, the Patriots could put him alongside veteran safety Rodney Harrison and move Eugene Wilson, who started at safety last season as a rookie, back to his natural position of cornerback, which would give Coach Bill Belichick additional leverage in the bitter negotiations with cornerback Ty Law regarding a contract restructuring.

Those teams love Taylor because he is a defensive playmaker as well as an intimidator in the secondary. He had 14 interceptions in two seasons as a starter for Miami; 10 came last season, with three returned for touchdowns.

"You can't be an average Joe,'' Taylor said. "You've got to make a play out there. You don't get points for batting down balls. You get points for picking balls off and running the other way."

Taylor was a running back, linebacker and defensive back in high school at Gulliver Academy in Miami. As a senior, he rushed for 1,300 yards and a state-record 44 touchdowns, demonstrating that he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it. He spent his freshman season at Miami backing up all-American Ed Reed in 2001. He became a starter in 2002 and an all-American last season, and decided to skip his senior season.

Asked at the combine whether his style is more like the flamboyant Reed's or the hard-nosed Williams's, Taylor said: "I think I'm both combined in one. I can hit. I can cover. I can run. I think you're getting everything in one, almost.''

NFL Note: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments today by attorneys for the NFL and former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett. The league maintains that U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin erred in a Feb. 5 ruling which said that the NFL must allow Clarett to enter the draft because its eligibility rule -- that a player must be at least three years removed from high school -- violates antitrust laws. The NFL says its draft rule should be exempt from antitrust scrutiny because it resulted from collective bargaining between the league and the NFL Players Association.

The appeals court likely will rule before the draft. NFL officials have said they would bar Clarett and former USC wide receiver Mike Williams from the draft if the league prevails, then allow them to enter the league via a supplemental draft if Scheindlin's ruling subsequently is upheld. Scheindlin's decision opened the draft to college freshmen and sophomores and high school players, and Williams was the only prominent player to enter early.

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