At 6’4, Taylor was one of the tallest receivers of his era, but at only 194 pounds, he was also very deserving of his nickname: Bones. Taylor made up for his skinny physique with a long stride that enabled him to get behind defenders. I spoke with T.J. Troup, an NFL historian who has coached wide receivers at the college and high school levels, for his thoughts on Taylor. Troup owns a significant amount of NFL film from the late ’40s and ’50s, making him the perfect source for this subject. He described Taylor to me as one of the best home-run threats of his day, with a playing style similar to other long-striders like Harlon Hill, Don Maynard, and Lance Alworth. The numbers certainly back that up.
The table below shows all receivers who were responsible for at least 39% of a team’s receiving touchdowns over a six-year period. Note that several receivers would show up multiple times on this list, so for players like Hutson, I’ve limited them to their single best six-year stretch. Taylor’s stretch from ’49 to ’54 ranks second on the list:
Tm Rec TDs
|Gene A. Washington||1971--1977||sfo||40||90||44.4%|
Bones wasn’t just a touchdown machine — he led the ‘Skins in receiving yards in each season from ’49 to ’54. While he “only” gained 4,381 yards over that time, context is important. This was back in the days of the twelve-game schedule, and the Redskins were a bad team that stubbornly kept running. Of the 11 primary teams in the NFL during that period, Washington ranked 10th in pass attempts per season. We can also use the concept of Game Scripts to see how run-obsessed the Redskins were. Take a look at the following table, which represents an average of each franchise’s Game Scripts data for each season from ’49 to ’54:
The “Script” column shows the estimated average points differential for each team for each second of every game. For example, the ’49 to ’54 Browns held an average lead of 7.2 points in each of their games, while the Redskins generally trailed by 3.5 points over the same period. The “P/R” ratio column simply shows each team’s pass-to-run ratio; the next two columns represent indices showing how each team ranked relative to average (e.g., an 85 is one standard deviation below average while a 130 is two standard deviations above average). Cleveland held an average lead of 7.2 points, meaning the Browns were more than one standard deviation above average in terms of average points differential. But in terms of their pass/run ratio, Cleveland was just slightly below average. Add those two columns together (and subtract 200), and you get each team’s Pass Identity — and Cleveland was a relatively pass-happy team.
As you can see, no team was as run-focused as the Redskins during that era. The teams that passed as infrequently as Washington were all winning teams (the Giants (+1.4 points), Eagles (+3.5) and 49ers (+3.7)) where it made sense for them to be run-heavy. The other losing teams of that era — the Packers and Cardinals — passed significantly more frequently than the Redskins. This also backs up what Troup saw on film. He said a number of times the Redskins would line Taylor up just a few yards off the left tackle (this wasn’t uncommon during that era for receivers) or even as a tight end, and have him block. With a name like Bones, he wasn’t much of a blocker, but that was the offense the Redskins ran. Taylor’s damage usually came when, after Washington would call run after run, the Redskins would find Taylor deep behind the defense (which helps explain how Taylor averaged 19.2 yards per reception during his career).
There is a way to put Taylor’s receiving yards in context and to isolate for the 12-game era and the run-heavy team. We can look at percentage of team receiving yards. And from ’49 to ’54, Taylor was responsible for 36.2% of the Redskins receiving yards. How does that stack up historically? The next table shows the best six-year periods for each wide receiver in terms of percentage of team receiving yards:
Tm Rec Yds
A couple of Doug Drinen favorites are ahead of Taylor, but you can see how essential he was to those Redskins teams (and of course, immediately below him is a Chase favorite). Could Taylor have been a Hall of Fame receiver on another team? Probably. Had he entered the league a few years earlier, he might have been a Hall of Famer on the Redskins. Instead, Sammy Baugh was 33 when Taylor entered the league, and by ’49 was in the decline phase of his career. Troup mentioned to me that (outside of Taylor) Washington was consistently the slowest team of that era, which helped to explain their poor record; and in case you forgot, Taylor played his entire career with a Redskins franchise that refused to integrate.
Something else stuck out to Troup when he watched film of the ’52 season: Taylor had unparalleled success against future Hall of Fame corner back1 Jack Butler, who tended to play very well against every receiver outside of Taylor. In two games in 1952, Taylor had three catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns — including the game-winner –in Pittsburgh and four catches for 139 yards and a score at home against the Steelers. Troup said Taylor wasn’t the most explosive receiver out of his breaks, but he was an excellent route-runner capable of running every route, and his antelope-like strides and superb ability to judge the ball in flight made him one of the game’s best players. But while the Rams threw to Elroy Hirsch and the Packers threw to Billy Howton, Taylor had no such luck and found himself on a bad team that thought running was king. And now he is one of the game’s forgotten stars.
- Butler played right cornerback early in his career before switching to safety. [↩]