In my humble opinion, Ike Taylor was one of the league’s most underrated cornerbacks from about 2007 to 2010. Although his hands prevented him from racking up large amounts of interceptions, Taylor was one of the most important pieces in Pittsburgh’s secondary. Taylor would shut down opposing teams’ best receivers, and his play in run support was solid.
Unfortunately for the Steelers and Taylor, his age might have finally caught up with him last fall. The veteran cornerback was mercilessly picked on by opposing offenses during the 2013 campaign, and his declining skill-set made him an easy target when he was lined up against receivers who were younger, faster and simply more athletic than him.
According to Pro Football Focus (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Taylor surrendered the more passing yards (1,043) than any cornerback in the NFL during the 2013 campaign. Now I certainly hate to be a Negative Nancy, but this was a defensive backfield which featured the likes of William Gay and Cortez Allen at the other cornerback spots last fall. The fact that opposing signal-callers felt more comfortable to target Taylor insinuates plenty about how he played.
Taylor’s issues and inability to stick with some of the best receivers in the league were put on display during a three-game stretch in the month of November. Calvin Johnson torched Ike for 179 yards and two touchdowns in one half in Week 11. The following week, Josh Gordon the Steelers up for 237 yards and one touchdown in Week 12. Then on Thanksgiving night, Torrey Smith racked up 93 yards and a touchdown for the Ravens.
Thus, it was no coincidence that Ike lost the responsibility to cover opposing teams’ number one wide receivers towards the end of last season.
Make no mistake, I am not insinuating that the Steelers need to release Taylor during the upcoming offseason. He still has one season left on his current contract, the team’s depth at cornerback is extremely thin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau apparently has an aversion to playing rookies in his secondary.
However, Ike’s declining play has to concern the front office enough to make a concerted effort during the upcoming offseason to bolster the cornerback position with some younger and more talented personnel. Whether it is through the 2014 NFL Draft or the free agency process, I am not sure. Yet Pittsburgh’s brass has to notice that Taylor, who will turn 34 in May, might be at the end of his career from a productivity standpoint.
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