INDIANAPOLIS — Ike Taylor knows good quarterback-wide receiver play when he sees it.
In his 12-year NFL career from 2003 to 2014 — all with the Pittsburgh Steelers — this two-time Super Bowl champion defensive back and kick returner earned 14 interceptions and deflected another 133 passes in the regular season, and had another three picks and five passes defensed in the playoffs, including his clutch, fourth quarter red zone pick that eventually helped secure victory in Super Bowl XL.
(Sorry to bring that one up, Matt Hasselbeck.)*
And while he never lined up against T.Y. Hilton or had to study film on Andrew Luck — in the regular season, that is — Taylor believes the Colts have one of the best offensive duos in the league, ranking them on his own "Top 100 Players of 2017" list.
Now, to be clear, Taylor — now a football analyst with the NFL Network — has released his list to coincide with the official "Top 100 Players" show, in which players across the league vote for the best of the best heading into the upcoming season.
On the official show, Luck was ranked No. 51, while Hilton was ranked 61st.
But Taylor feels those rankings should be reversed; he has Hilton ranked No. 45, while Luck, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, comes in at No. 72.
Of Luck, Taylor writes, "I believe Andrew Luck, who ranks 12th among quarterbacks in my top 100, will get back to that dominant, franchise player for the Colts if he can stay injury free."
"Hilton," Taylor also wrote, "last year's receiving yards leader (1,448), keeps proving people wrong and is a big reason Andrew Luck is as productive as he is."
Now, let's get one thing clear: if Luck is healthy, he's definitely not the No. 12 quarterback in the NFL.
Try Top 5 — maybe even better than that.
As it turned out, Luck played hurt throughout the entire 2016 season and still put up perhaps his best overall season to date: 346 for 545 passing (for a career-best 63.5 completion percentage) with 4,240 yards with 31 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions.
But one might also see where Taylor is coming from with his ranking; Luck needs to stay relatively healthy to keep this production up, and he's yet to get back to throwing in his recovery from surgery on his all-important right shoulder. With training camp now about six weeks away, we'll see just how much progress No. 12 has made.
Hilton's ranking, meanwhile, seems a little more just. There are lots of really good, young wide receivers in today's game, and while Hilton, by no fault of his own, just can't seem to do enough to warrant enough credit to be considered among them by some experts, to be considered a Top-50 player in the entire league by Taylor seems fair enough.
And what about Taylor's previous experience against either Luck or Hilton? Well, in 2012 — Luck and Hilton's rookie year — Taylor did pick off a Luck pass in the preseason and return it 49 yards for a touchdown.
That pass was intended for Reggie Wayne, who, prior to Hilton in 2016, was the last Colts receiver to lead the league in receiving (2007).
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