When asked to describe the type of player Sean Taylor was, former Redskins great Brian Mitchell had three comparisons:
“Imagine Steve Atwater, Ronnie Lott and Ed Reed all mixed in one,” he said on the Sports Uncovered podcast, which debuted on Thursday.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing around 230 pounds, Taylor looked more like a linebacker than a defensive back. But what he did on the field revolutionized the position forever, and even to this day players want to be like Taylor.
Let’s start in the same secondary Taylor roamed for four years in Washington. Landon Collins may have grown up in New Orleans, but perhaps no other player in the NFL gets more inspiration from No. 21 than No. 20 does today for the Burgundy and Gold, thanks to the undeniable similarities between the two.
“I’m watching highlights and I’m constantly seeing 21, 21, 21 making big, ginormous hits on highlight tapes and stuff like that, so I was like ‘let me figure out who Sean Taylor is,” Collins said on the podcast. “After watching his highlight tapes I’m like, ‘wow, he’s playing with so much aggression, he’s playing like he hates the other team that he’s playing against. That’s how I feel playing against anybody.”
“I feel like this is me, just an older me that’s already playing the position I want to play… It was just crazy that it was like hand-in-hand, I mean I feel like I'm walking in the same footsteps.”
Carrying himself like Taylor has been a priority since a 9-year-old Collins saw Taylor hitting anything that moved on those highlight tapes. It provided somewhat of a blueprint for the aspiring safety, so Collins wore No. 26 at Alabama (Taylor was No. 26 at Miami), then he donned No. 21 (famously Taylor’s number with the Redskins) with the New York Giants before settling on No. 20 in Washington, as a sign of respect to his football idol.
“I’m not trying to replace No. 21, I’m not trying to do anything to make anybody upset, but to me it was something that I idolized, and I knew at this moment I don’t think anybody from this time or forever will wear No. 21 again, so I wore No. 20 just to honor him right next to his number… I have some big shoes to fill at the same time, but I’m going to do it all if I can.”
Collins is far from the only player to feel this way. Former Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger wore No. 36 with Washington (Taylor’s old number during his rookie year), laced-up Taylor inspired cleats and even decorated his facemask with tape before big games just like Sean used to. As Swearinger told NBC Sports Washington back in 2017, Taylor provided inspiration on the right way to play the position.
“Every time he was on, I was glued to the TV just trying to see what he did, how he hit people, how he had range in the middle, how he came downhill and knocked the ball loose, just how he was a dominant force on the field,” Swearinger said. “I wanted to be that dominant force wherever I was at.”
The list goes on: New Redskins safety Sean Davis, former Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Virginia native and 4-time Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry have all opened up about how Sean Taylor inspired them (and that’s just to name a few). It’s not only safeties though, Taylor was even a favorite of 2020 second overall pick Chase Young while he was growing up in the DMV, and now the Ohio State product will look to have a similar impact on the Redskins defense that a young Hurricane had over a decade ago.
It is truly incredible that Sean Taylor’s playing style is still talked about to this day, a fact not lost on those who have seen it all in the NFL, like 12-year NFL veteran and longtime Redskins analyst Trevor Matich.
“Some of the best at the position in the league are looking at Sean Taylor to see how they should play to be better,” Matich said. “Think about that - I mean it’s one thing to look at a player and say, ‘Ok, he’s pretty good,’ it’s another thing for you to be one of the best in the business and you say, ‘I can get better if I do things more like he did it.’ That’s a compliment.”
“When you talk about Sean Taylor, when you see tributes to Sean Taylor, he’s affected more players in the NFL at this point than anyone else,” said Clinton Portis, Taylor’s teammate at the University of Miami and with the Redskins. “You’re talking about most of your top players in the NFL want to emulate or idolize Sean Taylor.”It’s great to model your game after a legendary player, but what about replacing him? The Redskins have been trying to find success in the secondary for over 12-years without much luck. Super Bowl XVII champion Joe Theismann has seen it all with this franchise, and warns against setting the bar too high for a replacement.
“We’re looking for someone like Sean Taylor, it’s like looking for a Lawrence Taylor. It’s like looking for a Tom Brady. It’s like looking for Peyton Manning. It’s like looking for John Riggins, you don’t find that, they’re rare to find,” Theismann said. “The search continues I think for us, I really think Landon Collins is the kind of a young player that can be close to that kind of a guy… to me, what I see in Landon is a lot of Sean.”
Collins sees a lot of Sean in himself too, and appears ready for the challenge ahead.
“It’s like a dream come true, it's unreal. Like I’m still floating on a cloud but I’m here now, got some big shoes to fill that I’m trying to make happen.”
Listen to the full episode of Sports Uncovered's Sean Taylor: The NFL Superstar We Didn't Get to Know, click here.
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