Instant Draft Grades Are Silly. Ike Taylor Shows Why

The 2015 NFL Draft is history and pundits have given their grades and reached their conclusions on the Steelers 2015 draft class.

  • Fair enough. The impulse to grade a draft is both strong and understandable.

Steeler Nation wants to know how the Steelers did in the 2015 Draft. Now. Writers who grade the Steelers draft will serve two purposes – they’ll fill the fans’ needs and generate a lot of page views in the process — Declaring first round pick Bud Dupree as the next Greg Lloyd or the next Alonzo Jackson generates a lot of attention.

  • The temptation to join in remains great.

But year after year, Steel Curtain Rising holds back for two reasons. First, living in Buenos Aires doesn’t afford much opportunity to watch college football, and there’s no sense in offering an uninformed opinion.

  • Second, the exercise of instant draft grading is rather silly.

Ike Taylor’s story shows us why.

Ike Taylor, Steelers, draft, 2015 draft, 2003 draft

Ike Taylor Discusses who Steelers might draft to replace him

Alas, Ike Taylor Retires Just a Little Too Soon….

IF Ike Taylor only could have waited after the 2015 NFL Draft to retire…. Timing is everything in this business, and Taylor retired two weeks before the draft. And as a rule, major Steelers news only breaks when I am traveling and unable to write.

I was already on the road when Polamalu retired, but managed to craft a fitting tribute to the Steelers legend. When Taylor announced he was done I was knee-deep in a trade show, unable to attempt to write even a stub. So goes it.

  • But Ike Taylor offers a cautionary lesson all would be draft graders.

The Steelers drafted Ike Taylor in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Fans remember 2002 as the year that Tommy Gun took Steelers Nation by storm. Too many forget that Tommy Maddox gunslinging exploits were desperately necessary because New England outed the Steelers defense acute weakness vs. the spread offense.

  • Kevin Colbert opened the offseason proclaiming his love for the Steelers secondary.

Then he opened the draft by picking defensive backs – Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor — with two of his first three picks. And that’s where things get interesting.

Grading Ike Taylor and the Steelers 2003 Draft

Unfortunately, even the magic of Google doesn’t make it easy to find a lot of Steelers 2003 draft grades, so our survey sample is small.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette didn’t grade the Steelers 2003 draft, but he did recount how Ike Taylor chased rabbits as a kid, and arrived to the NFL as a raw talent.

ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli gave the Steelers a C+, he praised the Polamalu trade, although stopped well short of projecting Polamalu as the legend he’d become. He also praised J.T. Wall has the best value pick, and called Ike Taylor a “Boom bust” pick.

Ike Taylor, Steelers, Ravens, interception, Joe Flacco

Ike Taylor Picks off Joe Flacco

Walter Football, which specializes in draft-related analysis, loved the Polamalu pick, projected Brian St. Pierre Steelers “quarterback of the future,” rightly critiqued the Alonzo Jackson pick, and concluded, “All of their other picks were just average; nothing spectacular.” (In all fairness to the site, they updated the article in 2008, and admitted their oversight of Ike Taylor).

USA Today gave the Steelers 2003 Draft 3 and a half stars, praised Troy Polamalu, and the only other player mentioned was Pro Bowl Clipboard Holder Brian St. Pierre.

Mark Madden, then writing a freelance column for the Post Gazette, liked the picks of Polamalu and Alonzo Jackson, and the labeled the pick of Ike Taylor as “The worst in team history.” A sampling of Madden’s reasoning goes as follows: “Taylor will be a total bust for the Steelers. The only person he hurts will be me after he reads this column.”

Here we’ll resist the urge to upbraid Madden the way he so richly deserves if only because my friend Ivan Cole at Behind the Steel Curtain already did a masterful job of it.

  • The point of this column isn’t to show how wrong Madden was.

Rather, the point is, for a long time, it looked like Mark Madden was on to something about Ike Taylor…

Ike Taylor’s Cautionary Tale to Would-Be Draft Graders

Ike Taylor played in all 16 games as a rookie, but mainly as a kick returner. He was expected to grab the starting role in 2004. He started 1 game, and neither was he unable to beat out Deshea Townsend nor an aging Willie Williams nor an aging Chad Scott. Dare we say that Mark Madden was starting to look smart.

Ike Taylor, interception, Super Bowl XL

Ike Taylor’s interception changes tempo of Super Bowl XL

  • Of course Ike Taylor not only grabbed the starting role in 2005, he also began shadowing opposing offenses best receivers, and making game-changing plays in Super Bowl XL.

Yet, in 2006, even after the Steelers gave Taylor a big contract, he found himself on the bench during a stretch that saw the Steelers pull themselves from a 2-6 hole to respectability. While some in the press felt Bill Cowher had unfairly scapegoated Taylor, Steelers Digest Bob Labriola labeled Taylor as one of the top priorities for the attention of newly hired head coach Mike Tomlin.

  • Tomlin unhesitatingly started Ike Taylor, and Taylor played as one of the top cornerbacks in the league for 6 of the next 8 years.

Evaluating an NFL Draft class takes a long time. 12 years later the only two players from the Steelers 2003 draft that stand out are Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. The others are Steelers history footnotes.

But the day after the draft everyone was talking about Troy Polamalu. Two of the four same-day Steelers draft grades didn’t even mention Ike Taylor. Mark Madden condemned Kevin Colbert for making “The worst pick in history” when in fact Ike Taylor was probably Colbert’s best 4th round selection ever.

In the end, it was Len Pasquarelli who hit that mark when he suggested there were tremendous possibilities for Taylor. But he was even more right when he reminded Steelers Nation that it would take time to find that out.

That’s the moral of this story. How did the Steelers do in the 2015 NFL Draft? Ask again in 4 or 5 years.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for more on the Steelers and the 2015 NFL Draft.

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