Taylor Mays, S, USC
Weight: 230 pounds
40 time: 4.43
A physical specimen at the safety position, scouts have had their eyes on Taylor Mays ever since he was one of the top recruits in the country back in 2006.
A four-year starter for USC with 49 career starts, Mays recorded 276 tackles, 21 pass breakups, and five interceptions over the course of his career with the Trojans; the most productive season of his came in 2009 when he totaled 96 tackles, three pass breakups, and one interception.
Mays has the combination of size, strength, speed, and overall athleticism needed to be an All-Pro safety at the next level. His speed and range in the open field are terrific and he’s an intimidating presence in the middle of the field with the ability to strike with an explosive hit at any time. Taylor has very good closing speed along with a burst to recover if he is beaten deep. He’s a very active defender against the run, consistently coming up from his safety position to stick his nose into the mix around the line of scrimmage to make a play.
With how fast he is, he’s a reliable last line of defense in the secondary for a team. He has also shown an ability to go up and make a play on the ball when it’s in the air (41-inch vertical). Mays is at his best in a zone defense where he can react to what he sees in front of him; he typically played 15-20 yards off the line of scrimmage, so he had the opportunity to see the entire field and read and react accordingly from there. For as much as there is to like about Taylor’s fantastic athleticism, there are also just as many concerns from a scout’s perspective.
I’d like to see Taylor go back to the basics and re-learn how to form tackle; there were way too many times in college when he led with his head trying to make a big hit and would simply whiff on making the tackle; he needs coaching at the next level on playing more disciplined. I feel that Mays also must work on taking better angles to the ball if he wants to be successful at the next level; there were several occasions in college when he would take himself out of the play simply by not reading the play correctly. Taylor has terrific straight-line speed, however he’s stiff and there are times when he will struggle changing directions; I wouldn’t ask him to play man coverage at the next level. His instincts are also questionable as he only recorded five interceptions as a center field-type of free safety even while starting 49 games for Southern Cal. Scouts have also questioned his maturity and passion for the game as well. I project that Mays will be drafted in the mid-to-late first round.
Taylor Mays has the talent alone needed to be a Pro Bowl safety in the NFL, however he still needs quite a bit of development to become the best player that he’s capable of being. He has the experience in college need to make an immediate impact at the next level and I could see him earning a job in a team’s starting lineup relatively early in his career. Taylor may need to land in the right fit in order to have the most success, as he’s not a great fit in all defensive schemes. Overall, his potential and upside are both enormous.
Notes: Taylor was named first-team All-American in 2007, 2008, and 2009 and second-team All-American in 2006; he was also named first-team All-Pac 10 in 2008 and 2009. One of the recruits in the country coming out of high school, Taylor was rated as the No. 1 player in the state of Washington as well as the No. 2 athlete and No. 16 overall player in the country by Rivals.com. Taylor has great blood lines with his dad, Stafford Mays, having played defensive line in the NFL for the St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings. Between his junior and senior seasons in high school, Taylor recorded 255 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions on defense in addition to catching 61 passes for 1,379 yards and 22 touchdowns while also rushing for three touchdowns and returning three punts for touchdowns as well. He was also a successful runner in track as a prep.
At one point, Mays was considered the better safety prospect than Eric Berry. Mays, though, is looking more like a potential “tweener”; perhaps he may project as a strong safety that comes up in run support. Some NFL teams may think why not just convert him to LB? He’s 6’4” and has very limited pass coverage skills.
He’s a terrific athlete that can hit hard and will work hard on and off the field. That said, he’ll likely get drafted too high in fantasy drafts.