CANTON, Ohio — Jason Taylor has the body of an NBA small forward.
At 6-6, 244 pounds, Taylor was built to play basketball. But Jimmy Johnson saw a Charles Haley-like quality in Taylor and took a chance on this unpolished pass rusher from a small school (the University of Akron). Johnson took Taylor with a third-round draft pick in 1997 and then turned him loose to chase and learn.
Twenty years later, Taylor stood on the stage Saturday night as a Pro Football Hall of Famer, collecting his bust as a member of the Class of 2017. Only nine pass rushers in NFL history collected more sacks than the 139 ½ of Taylor.
Johnson won a pair of Super Bowls with Haley as his edge rusher in Dallas in the 1990s. Johnson served as Taylor’s presenter Saturday night, and Taylor was quick to thank his former coach for the chance to play and — and the chance to thrive — in a football career.
“Guys built like me did not play defensive end in the NFL,” said Taylor in his induction speech. “But you didn’t care. You took a chance on an under-sized guy. Back then they were called tweeners. It was kind of a derogatory term. Now they are called hybrids, and everybody wants them. So I’d like to think that maybe we had a little something to do with that.
“So I’d like to say thank you, coach, it means the world to me that you’re here to present me. Hopefully, the next time you’re in Canton you’re putting on one of these jackets, and I’m giving you a hug on this stage as well.”
Taylor played 15 seasons, went to six Pro Bowls and was the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He tied an NFL record with 29 fumble recoveries and also forced 48 fumbles, intercepted three passes, scored nine defensive touchdowns and was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2000s.