Best of the Firsts, No. 2: Lawrence Taylor
As part of our offseason coverage, we’re taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.
The No. 2 Pick: Lawrence Taylor, 1981, New York Giants
His Credentials: 10-time Pro Bowl selection, 10-time All-Pro, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s, member of NFL’s 75th anniversary team, two-time Super Bowl champion, NFL MVP in 1986, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year in 1981, inducted into Hall of Fame in 1999, ranked No. 3 on NFL’s top 100 players of all-time list, ninth all-time in sacks
Others in Consideration: Calvin Johnson (2007, Lions); Julius Peppers (2002, Panthers); Donovan McNabb (Eagles, 1999); Tony Boselli (1995, Jaguars); Marshall Faulk (1994, Colts); Eric Dickerson (1983, Rams); Tony Dorsett (1977, Cowboys); Randy White (1975, Cowboys)
The line in the sand is pretty clear for No. 2 overall picks: Either you become an NFL superstar or you are labeled a bust. The expectations that come with being picked second are high, and that makes it nearly impossible to turn out an average career in the eyes of observers.
Case in point: Ronnie Brown, who just completed his seventh pro season and has rushed for nearly 5,000 career yards (including 1,008 in 2006). Had he been a fourth- or fifth-round find, Brown would have been considered a solid pickup for Miami. Instead, he is a guy who never met his potential.
That legacy still puts him in better standing than players like Charles Rogers and Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 picks in 2003 and 1998, respectively, who are widely considered two of the biggest flops ever.
But there have been plenty of success stories at No. 2, with recent years producing Von Miller, Ndamukong Suh, Chris Long, Calvin Johnson and others.
The gold standard at No. 2 overall, though, remains Lawrence Taylor.
When the NFL counted down its top 100 players of all-time last summer, Taylor landed at No. 3, behind only Jerry Rice and Jim Brown.
“Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I’ve ever seen,” John Madden once said. “He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers.”
Taylor was a completely dominant force on defense, registering a career-high 20.5 sacks in 1986 — at the time, that stood as the league record, though it has since been surpassed by multiple players. Taylor also took home the league’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards that season, plus helped the Giants to a Super Bowl victory. L.T. and his teammates won the ultimate prize again four seasons later.
Taylor may have been the most intimidating defensive player the league has ever seen, especially since he often fired off the ball toward the quarterback’s blindside.
Accurately or not, Taylor’s presence at outside linebacker is often credited with the NFL’s extreme focus on the left tackle position after Taylor’s leg-shattering takedown on Joe Theismann in 1985.
“The traditional ways of pass protecting, assigning a back to the outside linebacker, proved to be not applicable when he got into football,” Bill Parcells said, “because he was a mismatch on most backs, if not all.”
Taylor finished his career with 132.5 sacks, though he also registered 9.5 more in 1981, the year before the NFL made that stat an official one. He currently sits ninth all-time in career sacks, though a total of 142 (if the 9.5 from his rookie year were counted) would bump him to fifth, ahead of Michael Strahan.
Regardless, Taylor’s impact on the game of football was lasting and memorable. He is arguably the greatest defensive player ever, and an easy choice at No. 2 overall.