By In Stuff

Feb. 4 birthday: Lawrence Taylor

Rosa Parks was born 100 years ago today. So that probably trumps all other American birthdays.

Lawrence Taylor was actually the second pick in the 1981 NFL Draft — behind Heisman Trophy running back George Rogers. Apparently, Bum Phillips — who was coaching and basically running the Saints — did not want Taylor, for whatever reasons. It should be said that the Saints did not exactly miss with that first pick. Rogers led the NFL with 1,674 rushing yards his rookie year, and he would have four 1,000-yard seasons in New Orleans and Washington. He was a big and bruising runner with speed, so he certainly was no bust.

It’s just that Taylor was a revolutionary player. Right away, he dominated — he was defensive rookie of the year AND defensive player of the year in 1981. There have been only a handful of players in sports who literally changed the way a game is played. I’d actually be curious who you think have been those players in various sports … but I would say most people agree that Taylor changed the game. He wasn’t the first linebacker to be used as a blitzing weapon, but it’s probably true that no linebacker had ever blitzed so often and that he disrupted quarterbacks passing more than any linebacker before him.

Michael Lewis has written that it was Lawrence Taylor, more than anyone, who prompted teams to discover new ways to protect the quarterbacks blind side, and I think that’s a fascinating theory. I think it’s also true that Taylor’s success was a big reason why teams started drafting and developing their own blitzing linebackers like Andre Tippett and Chip Banks and Mike Merriweather and, eventually, Charles Haley and Derrick Thomas. BLT — Before Lawrence Taylor — the ideal linebacker was Dick Butkus or Jack Lambert, who played in the middle and stuffed running backs and read the quarterbacks eyes.

ALT — After Lawrence Taylor — the ideal linebacker came around the end and obliterated the quarterback.

A couple of things I did not know: One — Taylor did not have double-digit sacks until his fourth season. In 1983 and 1984, he did not even finish in the Top 10 in sacks, and in 1984 Andre Tippett — who was often called the AFC’s Lawrence Taylor — had 18 1/2 sacks to finish second in the NFL. Oh, he was still dominant, just not quite in the way he would be later. I think Taylor in those early years was much of an all-around linebacker who made big plays all over the field. It wasn’t until 1986, when the Giants thoroughly unleashed him as a blitzed, and he led the NFL with 20 1/2 sacks. Not coincidentally, that was the year the Giants took a quantum leap forward and won the Super Bowl.

Two, there is no official “Forced Fumbles” statistic, and there should be. According to his Hall of Fame bio, he forced 33 fumbled in his career. I have no idea if this is a lot or not. It SHOULD be a lot — I do not recall anyone hitting running backs or quarterbacks harder. But there’s no reliable list. Forced fumble is a relatively new statistic.

The unofficial list on Pro Football Reference looks like so:

  1. Jason Taylor, 47 forced fumbles.

  2. Chris Doleman, 44 forced fumbles.

  3. John Abraham, 43 forced fumbles.

(tie). Dwight Freeney, 43 forced fumbles.

  1. Bruce Smith, 43 forced fumbles.

(tie). Derrick Thomas, 41 forced fumbles.

  1. Rickey Jackson, 40 forced fumbles.

(tie) Robert Mathis, 40 forced fumbles

  1. Julius Peppers, 38 forced fumbles

  2. Richard Dent, 37 forced fumbles

(tie) Charles Tillman, 37 forced fumbles

But, of course, these numbers are incomplete and weird. Lawrence Taylor is not credited with any forced fumbles in his career by Football Reference, but Rickey Jackson, who played over almost exactly the same time period, is credited with 40. So I can’t quite figure it out. My point is, I think forced fumbles are a pretty decent statistic to look at over a career. I wonder if at some point people will dig through the NFL Films library and painstakingly put together a full slate of defensive statistics — it would be fun to know just how many fumbles Butkus or Willie Lanier caused, how many sacks Deacon Jones and Willie Davis had and so on.

Print Friendly

14 Responses to Feb. 4 birthday: Lawrence Taylor

  1. shaggy says:

    What position did LT play at UNC? If different who was his linebackers coach at Giants?

  2. Reagan says:

    LT says he modeled his play after Thomas Henderson, who played for the Cowboys in the 1970s (and then some other teams in the 1980s). Both were super athletic outside linebackers. The only differences are (a) Henderson self-destructed (somehow LT didn’t – even though they had the same problems) and (b) the Cowboys didn’t rush their outside linebackers very often.

  3. DJM says:

    I’m surprised we didn’t get a posterisk about that forced-fumbles list. If you look at it, you have ten great, if not legendary defensive players…and Charles Tillman! Who is a pretty good cornerback, but would anyone really expect him to be that high on the list?

  4. Scott says:

    Why does Rosa Parks top any other birthdays? She was a con, really. The girl who was originally kicked off the bus and tried to sue wasn’t considered media ready so Rosa Parks was recruited as a replacement. She didn’t do anything more or less than any run of the mill reality tv star. The people who ran the lawsuit are praiseworthy, but also cynical and manipulative, the fact that you remember Rosa Parks and not the girl who actually took the stand Rosa Parks is remembered for is proof of that.

    • clashfan says:

      You mean Claudette Colvin? She was fifteen years old, and not long after joining the lawsuit, became pregnant out of wedlock. The NAACP decided that, in the mid-50s, she was not the best person to represent the cause. Were they wrong? One person’s ‘cynical and manipulative’ is another’s savvy and political smarts.

      Rosa Parks had been active in the civil rights movement for well over a decade. She and her husband couldn’t get work in Alabama after the bus strike and had to leave the state. Calling her a ‘reality TV star’ is disingenuous and ridiculous.

      Colvin had no problem with the choice of Parks to be the face of the bus boycott. Why do you?

    • JRoth says:

      I think what he’s trying to say is that Rosa Parks was the real racist.

  5. dbutler16 says:

    The same is true of sacks, which didn’t become an official stat until something like 1983. I remember having a football card from the 70’s which credited Deacon Jones (I think) with 23 sacks, but of course, it’s not in the record book. It would be nice if they could go back through the films and give proper credit to those players.

  6. KHAZAD says:

    Left tackles make alot more money today because of Taylor and those who came after him.

  7. Ben Parker says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Tom Nawrocki says:

    When did NFL defenses shift to the 3-4? I don’t think LT gets credit for that, but obviously, you can’t really have a constantly blitzing linebacker if you’re playing a 4-3. I think there were teams using a 3-4 defense before LT, but he probably helped popularize it.

  9. CR IX says:

    re: tillman. he’s a cornerback, while every other player on the list is either a defensive end or a rush specialist linebacker.

    what makes that even more impressive is that it is much easier to force a fumble from the qb, as presumably many of these are, who may not see you coming and is holding the ball untucked with basically one hand, than a receiver who is protecting the ball. what’s more as a cb, you are involved in what i would guess is far fewer plays.

    the point about tillman not being considered in the class of other people on the list is true, but i wonder if we are actually greatly underrating his impact when we don’t incorporate the forced fumbles into our evaluation of him.

  10. CR IX says:

    re: tillman. he’s a cornerback, while every other player on the list is either a defensive end or a rush specialist linebacker.

    what makes that even more impressive is that it is much easier to force a fumble from the qb, as presumably many of these are, who may not see you coming and is holding the ball untucked with basically one hand, than a receiver who is protecting the ball. what’s more as a cb, you are involved in what i would guess is far fewer plays.

    the point about tillman not being considered in the class of other people on the list is true, but i wonder if we are actually greatly underrating his impact when we don’t incorporate the forced fumbles into our evaluation of him.

  11. WWhite says:

    Somebody put together a compilation of every forced fumble Lawrence Taylor caused throughout his career. His actual total is not 33… it’s 56. Go to youtube and do a search using the tag words “lawrence taylor” “forced fumbles” and you’ll find it. I doubt anybody in NFL history has more than LT’s 56 forced fumbles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *