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Mark's Madness: Steelers make history with worst draft pick ever

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The Steelers made history Sunday. They made their worst draft pick ever.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I like a good bad draft choice. I derived as much enjoyment from the reigns of error provided by Troy Edwards, Jamain Stephens and Deon Figures as I did from the Super Bowl years. Being indescribably bad is often more intriguing than being incomparably good.

Which brings us to Ike Taylor, the Steelers' fourth-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette.

Louisiana-Lafayette is technically Division I-A, but the football program's primary purpose seems to be to pick up big paydays by acting as a record-building punching bag for larger schools like, well, everybody else.

Taylor's claim to fame during his one season at cornerback for Louisiana-Lafayette was that he knocked four people out of games, two via concussive effect and two via sprains. My attempt to check if Taylor sprained the knee of Middle Tennessee receiver Tyrone Calico by using (whoooo!) the figure-four leglock proved inconclusive. Check the video? Yeah, like that game was on TV anywhere.

Taylor was a tailback at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2001, making the team as a walk-on. Taylor's draft profile on NFL.com says he did not play in 2000 because he "concentrated on academics." Before that, he was a Prop 48. Before that, he was dumb. Probably still is.

Probably not dumb enough to pick himself in the fourth round, though. This pick makes no sense. On a scale of one to 10, Ourlads Scouting Service gave Taylor a one. They projected him to be drafted when hell froze over.

But Taylor is a Steeler. I guarantee he will make the team. Taylor could lose a leg at rookie camp, have a lobotomy at minicamp and develop a heroin habit at training camp, and he would make the Steelers. When a team makes a bad draft choice, cutting him right away fairly screams the club's stupidity in all-too-short order.

At 6-foot, 197 pounds with 4.33 speed in the 40-yard dash, Taylor could turn out to be the latter-day Mel Blount. Or the black Scott Shields. I'm betting on the latter.

Said Steelers defensive backs coach Willy Robinson -- yes, someone actually admits to having that job -- "The one thing you can't do is teach a guy to be 6 feet, almost 6-1, 197 pounds and run a 4.3 like he can." How come no one ever drafted Jesse Owens?

With all those marvelous physical attributes, how did Taylor wind up at Louisiana-Lafayette? Why wasn't he at Southern California with Troy Polamalu? Wouldn't a big-time school take a Prop 48 recruit that projected as a fourth-round NFL draft pick? Absolutely. But while you can't teach anyone to be 6 feet, 197 pounds and run a 4.3, you probably can't teach Taylor to play football.

Taylor played four different positions in high school, two in college. You say that's because he's versatile. I say it's because he couldn't figure out any one position.

Taylor will be a total bust for the Steelers. The only person he hurts will be me after he reads this column.

The choice of rag-armed Boston College quarterback Brian St. Pierre in the fifth round stinks, too. The Steelers did that just for the sake of drafting a quarterback. In the seventh round, I understand the Steelers drafted a fullback. Do NFL teams still use fullbacks?

Other than that, I liked the Steelers draft. Seriously. As bad as the choices of Taylor, St. Pierre and what's-his-name are, the selections of Polamalu and Alonzo Jackson fit like hand in glove.

The Steelers needed a safety. Polamalu was the top safety in the draft.

Did the Steelers give too much to trade up to No. 16? Probably. Could they have moved up a little less high, given a bit less, and still gotten Polamalu? Probably. But the Steelers got the man they wanted. Given that, and given the need, you can't fault taking Polamalu.

Jackson was a slight reach in the second round. But he's a true pass-rushing specialist. The Steelers' defense hasn't been the same since Kevin Greene left town. Greene was far from a complete player. But he gave the Steelers an extra dimension that struck fear in foes and gave the opposing quarterback less time to make decisions.

Jackson played defensive end at Florida State. The Steelers will make him into an outside linebacker. I just hope they don't try to make him into a complete player. Don't teach Jackson how to drop back into coverage. Just let him be Kevin Greene.

Jackson will play rush end in the dime, which might turn into a nickel if Bill Cowher's post-draft comments prove accurate. I hope they do. If getting Jackson, Kendrell Bell, Jason Gildon and Joey Porter on the field at the same time means going with only five defensive backs in passing situations, so be it.

Play your best athletes. Leaving Bell off the field for passing downs last season was criminal.

I'm chock-full of enthusiasm about the ridiculous choice of Taylor. Just as this generation of Steelers fans (cough) deserves its own Super Bowl team, it also deserves to experience a replay of the shame of 1989, when the Steelers' 1-2 first-round punch of Tim Worley and Tom Ricketts ultimately made grown men weep. And drink.

Of course, I'm hardly infallible when it comes to judging this sort of thing.

I liked the choice of Edwards in 1999. Hey, gotta get a receiver, right? Wrong. I also spoke glowingly of Shields' physical skills when the safety from Weber State was chosen in the second round that same year. Conversely, I decried the choice of Antwaan Randle-El in the second round last season.

But I stand by my condemnation of Ike Taylor. Ike Turner would have been a better choice. Talk about a big hitter.


Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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