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Forgotten Stars: Hugh Taylor

by Chase Stuart on April 8, 2013

in History, Receiving, Statistics

Bones stretches for a touchdown

Bones stretches for a touchdown.

Only three players in NFL history have been responsible for half of their team’s receiving touchdowns over a six-year period: Don Hutson, Jerry Rice, and Hugh Taylor. You probably don’t know much about Taylor, the Washington Redskins star receiver who played from 1947 to 1954. In his first game in the NFL, he caught 8 passes for 212 yards and 3 touchdowns, giving him the record for receiving yards in a player’s first game that stood until 2003.  In his last game, he caught five passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns.  In between those games, he was a star receiver on one of the worst teams in the NFL.  Despite the short career, Taylor came in at #63 on my list of the best receivers of all time. His most impressive season came in 1952, when he was responsible for 45% of the Redskins’ receiving yards and produced the 52nd-best season ever by a wide receiver.

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:

Name
Years
Tm
Rec TDs
Tm Rec TDs
Perc
Don Hutson1939--1945gnb6311355.8%
Hugh Taylor1948--1954was499551.6%
Jerry Rice1985--1991sfo9017850.6%
Sterling Sharpe1988--1994gnb6413647.1%
Harold Carmichael1973--1979phi469946.5%
Mike Quick1981--1987phi5411746.2%
Cris Carter1991--1997min6213745.3%
Gene A. Washington1971--1977sfo409044.4%
Tommy McDonald1956--1962phi5813144.3%
Carl Pickens1992--1998cin5612744.1%
Sonny Randle1959--1965crd5713043.8%
Dick Gordon1965--1971chi327343.8%
Don Maynard1962--1968nyj5612943.4%
Marvin Harrison1995--2001clt6214443.1%
Lance Alworth1962--1968sdg7016342.9%
Randy Moss1997--2003min7718042.8%
Billy Wilson1952--1958sfo388942.7%
Steve Largent1977--1983sea4610842.6%
Terrell Owens1996--2002sfo6816242%
Larry Fitzgerald2003--2009crd5914241.5%
Torry Holt2002--2008ram5112341.5%
Billy Howton1951--1957gnb419941.4%
Herman Moore1992--1998det5312841.4%
Steve Smith2004--2010car4210340.8%
Anthony Miller1987--1993sdg379140.7%
Gary Garrison1968--1974sdg399640.6%
Michael Irvin1989--1995dal4310640.6%
Bob Hayes1964--1970dal5914740.1%
Danny Abramowicz1966--1972nor379339.8%
Ken Burrough1971--1977oti317839.7%
Hines Ward1999--2005pit4511439.5%
Harlon Hill1953--1959chi4010239.2%

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.

Team
SCRIPT
P/R
SCRIPT i
PASS i
PASS IDENTITY
CLE7.243.9122.597.219.7
RAM4.747.0114.499.013.5
DET1.749.4105.3105.310.6
CHI1.746.7104.8104.59.3
PHI3.542.6110.095.95.9
SF3.742.8110.793.84.6
GB-4.551.186.6110.4-3.0
PIT-1.044.396.899.3-3.9
NYG1.441.2104.489.4-6.2
CRD-3.647.788.6102.1-9.3
WAS-3.541.989.687.9-22.5

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:

Name
Years
Tm
Rec Yds
Tm Rec Yds
Perc
Don Hutson1939--1945gnb50891085046.9%
Michael Irvin1990--1996dal80552132837.8%
Lance Alworth1962--1968sdg77472055737.7%
Billy Howton1951--1957gnb50741372737%
Hugh Taylor1948--1954was43811209336.2%
Jimmy Smith1996--2002jax77552161735.9%
Herman Moore1991--1997det73492075635.4%
Steve Smith2004--2010car66881890535.4%
Chad Johnson2001--2007cin80362297535%
Lionel Taylor1959--1965den64241845134.8%
Tim Brown1993--1999rai75192199834.2%
Randy Moss1997--2003min83752480333.8%
Ken Burrough1973--1979oti46791387733.7%
Don Maynard1963--1969nyj65741964233.5%
Marvin Harrison1998--2004clt87072604333.4%
Jerry Rice1989--1995sfo87592621333.4%
Sterling Sharpe1988--1994gnb73432203933.3%
Roddy White2006--2012atl77732351933%
James Lofton1979--1985gnb70302127533%
Max McGee1957--1963gnb45891390833%
Billy Wilson1952--1958sfo47391443632.8%
Elbie Nickel1948--1954pit38181172032.6%
Otis Taylor1965--1971kan50991575832.4%
Raymond Berry1955--1961clt53251647532.3%
Harlon Hill1953--1959chi44671385032.3%
Rod Smith1996--2002den73942296932.2%

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.

  1. Butler played right cornerback early in his career before switching to safety. []

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan April 8, 2013 at 2:21 am

Great article…a forgotten star indeed.

Reply

Chase Stuart April 8, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thanks Ryan. Glad you enjoyed.

Reply

Tim Truemper April 8, 2013 at 7:44 am

Looking at the list I saw a direct year to year contemporary, Elbie Nickel. He probably suffered to on a less that good team. Great find on “Bones.” This is what makes FP a great blog. I might look of the PFR web page and see who was the coach(es) and also other QB. I’m figuring Eddie LeBaron. And of course, what other players of note for the Redskins at that time.

Reply

Chase Stuart April 8, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thanks Tim.

Reply

Tim Truemper April 8, 2013 at 9:43 am

Saw that the great Curly Lambeau was head coach for Washington two of the years Taylor was with the Skins. A real mixture of different HC’s the rest of the time including Joe Kuharich who was just plain terrible. Seeing Lambeau on the list made me wonder if they were even running the T formation part of the time. Only one recongnizable offensive player along with Taylor was Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice. Gene Brito was playing OE some years but splitting time as Pro Bowl level DE, too.
Chase– did your friend have any comments on the type of offense they were running aside from the emphasis on running? And finally, looks like Sammy Baugh was slinging it pretty good the first few years for Taylor, but with Harry Gilmer getting in some starts, the passing game tails off badly. And one year Gilmer makes the pro bowl with 4 TD’s passing and 17 int.’s. Wow. At the end of Taylor’s career, looks like with LeBaron and Al Dorrow playing QB, there was much less passing.

Reply

Chase Stuart April 8, 2013 at 10:53 am

They did run the T Formation under Baugh and I think just about the entire NFL was using the T in the ’50s, and some teams were using three wide receivers (although not the Skins).

Reply

Richie April 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm

It always amazes me when I suddenly learn about a player like this – whose name I don’t recognize. (Surely I’ve come across his name in previous lists, but it hasn’t stuck with me.)

Also, I would love to be able to spend a day watching Troup’s game film from that period.

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