Earlier this week, in a story from Phil Barber of the Press Democrat, Niners head coach Mike Singletary had plenty of strong words about safety Taylor Mays. The coach talked about the rookie and his dedication to the San Francisco offseason, his attention to detail in practice and willingness to understand the defense he will be playing in come September.
Basically, everything you want to hear about a rookie. Too often, these rooks roll into OTAs and minicamp with big resumes only to disappoint the coaching staff and the veteran players as well.
In short, they become an after thought once the game plans are handed out in meetings come the regular season.
I talked to plenty of people in the league about the former USC product after the draft. From what I heard, there was never a question about Mays’ ability as an athlete. We could judge that ourselves from his workouts back in Indy at the combine. One of the rare—very rare—players that come into this league with that ideal blend of size, speed and power.
The only issue: it didn’t translate on tape.
“Not a playmaker,” was the general opinion of scouts. Yes, there were defensive coaches in the league I talked to that were high on Mays—but not enough to use a first round pick on him.
Bottom line: you draft safeties in the first round if you project them to make plays at the NFL level. That’s it. Guys like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Darren Sharper, etc. in today's game. They have staying power in this league because they show up and create impact situations on the field. That is what ther Niners want to see from Mays. Impact plays.
But, when we hear Singletary—a former player himself—speak so highly of a rookie, then we should listen. He sees it everyday and is a good judge of talent.
Does that mean we were wrong about Mays? Not yet, as the NFL game changes, takes a step forward and becomes so much more demanding when the pads go on in August. That is when the real competition begins and players start to separate themselves.
And, there are still questions to be answered. Can he play the middle of the field? Will he understand pro offensive schemes? Does he have the instincts to jump routes, to anticipate double moves and to make a play on the ball down the field?
That’s what we should all want to see from Mays. Does his game translate at the NFL level? It is a question we will ask of every high profile rookie, and we all get to see it play out starting next month.
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