Former USC safety Taylor Mays is now a San Francisco 49er, and despite having a workout at the Combine that seemed to carry him all the way until draft weekend, he still slipped out of the first round.
The value the Niners received by taking Mays in the second — instead of reaching up for him in the first — will pay off while he develops into a player that can consistently come out of the middle of the field at the free safety position. But, how can a 6-3, 235-pounder who runs in the 4.3s or 4.2s (depending on what stop watch you look at) slip into the second round?
As one GM recently told me, Mays is “the icing without the cake.”
We have to understand that when GMs and head coaches look at first-round safeties, there has to be return on the money that is invested in these high-priced picks. That return is in playmaking ability. The first-round safeties over the weekend — Eric Berry of Tennessee who went to K.C. at No. 5 and Earl Thomas of Texas who went to Seattle at No. 14 — were playmakers in college. They can jump routes, have man-to-man skills and can get their hands on the ball when they use their range from the middle of the field to get over the top of vertical routes outside of the numbers.
GMs pay for players who create turnovers. And although Mays could be an impact player this year at the strong safety position in Mike Singletary’s defense in San Fran, you don’t pay for players who cover TEs and make tackles in the run game. That is expected from any player that finds himself playing in the box on Sundays.
There has been such a premium put on defending the passing game at the NFL level in recent years that when players like Berry and Thomas are available in the draft, you have no problem paying out the big bonuses that come along with their draft position. Basic fundamentals are often times pushed aside for a player that can create game-changing plays from the secondary. Even if a prospect can’t tackle well in the open field, that skill can be taught.
But, not instincts or the ability to consistently be around the football from a defensive secondary perspective.
Heading into the weekend, this became the biggest knock on Mays. Superior physical talent, but concerns that he wouldn’t be able to make plays as a rookie. With coaching and learning how NFL offenses work through time on the field, the hope is that the former USC star can develop into an NFL playmaker.
However, he isn’t worth the first-round money yet.
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