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In Defense of Taylor Mays

( I wrote this a while back but shelved it. Sometimes I will write something to wrap my head around an idea, but decide against posting it. In light of some thinking I was making light of SBN's official mock draft, or selecting Taylor Mays because I had a bone to pick with the FO, I thought I would post this. Mays is not my preference at six. I am not sure I would select him at 14. In fact, about a year and a half ago, I said Mays future is as a linebacker. That does not mean he is a bad football player or certain to bust. It just means that whoever drafts him must be open and adaptable to what Mays can do, and not try to shoehorn him into a position he is incapable of filling.)

Why do draft picks bust? Many bust because of injury. Injury is one of the hardest things to predict in pro sports, and many picks never make it because of career ending or career altering injuries. The latter is less recognized, but careers do not always end on a stretcher. Sometimes it is a series of debilitating injuries that one by one chip away at a player's talent. I have often wondered if the Glenn Dorsey that dominated in 2007 is the same Glenn Dorsey that Kansas City drafted in 2008. That was his best season, and his body paid a heavy toll.

Some bust because of their character. Maurice Clarett embodies every character concern a player can have. He feuded with his coaches at Ohio State and seems naturally antagonistic towards authority. He battled weight problems and seems disinclined to hard work. He was arrested several times and is currently imprisoned. Worst of all, Clarett writes a blog.

The worst bust is the bust that results from overestimating a player's ability. JaMarcus Russell is an excellent example of a player that was overestimated for the wrong reasons. He is a tools-first prospect that plays a skills-first position. All positions require some skill. That is precisely why many are wary about Jason Pierre-Paul. He has loads of talent but has shown little ability to harness that talent. Paul must become an entirely different player to succeed in the NFL. That kind of transformation rarely happens.

Rarely does a player prove himself to be one thing in college but succeeds in the NFL as something completely different. Ball hawking corners can become better ball hawking corners. If a team drafts them into a system that emphasizes man coverage, like the Arizona Cardinals, that corner is likely to fail. Run-stuffing defensive tackles stay run-stuffing defensive tackles. Indianapolis will not draft Terrence Cody.

If Seattle drafts Taylor Mays and forces him to regularly play cover 1, Mays will fail. It is no mystery that Mays has poor cover skills, both his ability to track the ball and redirect to intercept it. If Seattle drafts Mays and plays Mays like Mora played Brian Russell, Mays will fail. I could go on. Mays is not versatile. He does not have a complete skill set for a safety. He will never be able to walk up to the line and cover a slot receiver man-to-man like Eric Berry will.

Mays is risky, and Mays may bust, but Taylor Mays is not a bad talent, a bad player and is not destined to bust. Whoever drafts him, and Seattle has to be the favorite, must play Mays to his strengths. He can be powerful weapon, but only if he is seen for what he is, not what his coach wants him to be.

Taylor Mays can blitz: The beauty of the safety blitz is it is often unblocked. When it is blocked, it is usually blocked by a back. The weakness of the safety blitz is spelled out in its name: A safety is blitzing. Most quarterbacks are bigger and stronger than a safety and can shrug off the pressure or outlet pass. A safety blitz can but rarely does intimidate.

Mays is not credited with a single sack at USC, but I assume it is because seeing Mays fire into the backfield untouched produces panicked throw aways. I've seen them, so I know they exist. One hit by Mays could end a quarterback's career. His mix of size and speed is unparalleled for his position. The force he would generate with a 10 to 20 yard running start is frighteningly awesome. Mays can cause fear, and though we may never know how much fear plays a part in football, Michael Crabtree can attest it does.

Taylor Mays has a linebacker's presence in the box: Deon Grant rarely fought through blocks. He could avoid blocks. He could engage blocks. But he never made much sense in the box. Grant was thin and rangy and tall and fought through blockers like one would expect a thin and rangy and tall player to. That made Grant an all or nothing presence as a run stopper. He could occasionally fight in for a tackle, but when he didn't, playing so close only thinned and weakened Seattle's run defense.

Mays is linebacker size and strong as hell. He can fight through fullbacks, pulling lineman and stuff as well as tackle runners. For any team that wants to keep a safety in the box, or run something like a modern 46 defense, Mays is a perfect fit. He is a linebacker with the added ability to turn and run and retreat into a deep zone. In that way, he is a little like young Brian Urlacher, neither totally a linebacker nor a safety but with enough power to play close and enough speed to drop into deep cover.

Taylor Mays could control the deep middle in a cover 3: Mays has sideline to sideline range, but when he reads wrong, he is beat because he has little ability to redirect. The key for him then is to keep the range of responsibility small, but allow him to play on the edges when and only when he is joining another defensive back in a double team. By playing primarily in a cover 3, Mays is only responsible to control the deep middle.

If Tampa Bay drafted DeMarcus Ware, Ware would be a bust. If Pittsburgh drafted Tommie Harris, Harris would be a bust. Ware and Harris fit special roles within very different schemes. Coaches know enough to not attempt to force an undersized tackle into a position where he must control offensive linemen, but they do not always know how to best unlock a player's potential. Julian Peterson played end at Michigan State, but was drafted to play linebacker in the pros. It wasn't until Seattle signed him that his true talent was unlocked. John Marshall turned him into a situational defensive end and Peterson was a terror.

Whatever the scuttlebutt, Mays is not a sure bust nor destined to fail. He is not likely to become a player he has never been before, either. He will not turn into a bigger Troy Polamalu. Just because he is a fearsome hitter does not mean he will turn into Kenny Easley or Ronnie Lott. Mays can become what he is, but better. He could become a bigger, faster and more powerful Dave Duerson. He could become an in the box safety with the presence of a linebacker, the blitzing ability of a rush linebacker, and the drop back skills of safety.

Coaches are paid millions to make talents like Taylor Mays successful professionals. It might take some adjustment, some creative thinking, but maximizing talent is job one for a coach. Wes Welker was not destined to be a great player. Ray Rice could have been just another scatback. Jerry Rice would have never made it in a vertical passing attack. Many fixate on Mays limitations. They see Mays for what he has been and what he can't be. Turning a 6'3", 230 pound, athletic wonder, with sensational speed, jumping and strength, that has started four years in a major athletic conference, and is known as a hard worker and passionate, turning Taylor Mays into a good football player should be within an NFL head coach's ability.