SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 17: Louis Murphy #18 of the Oakland Raiders fumbles the ball when he was hit by Taylor Mays #23 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 17 2010 in San Francisco California. Murphy recovered his own fumble on the play. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Strengths: Taylor Mays is a phenomenal athlete. He's as big as some linebackers but he can run with most defensive backs on the Bengals. He can be a great hitter and solid open field tackler. He isn't as bad as you heard about in zone coverage. He has played the deep centerfield position in college and showed flashes of being able to get sideline to sideline in a hurry. He can play both FS and SS equally as good. While he looks like an in-the-box type of safety, he has the experience of playing the deep FS while at USC. Mays can also be a core special teams player. He has the work ethic and team mentality it takes to sacrifice your body on special teams and become a leader in the locker room.
Weaknesses: While Mays has the straight-line speed, he doesn't have the change-of-direction ability that it takes to play man-to-man coverage or break down in the open field and make one-on-one tackles. At times, Mays doesn't look very instinctive when he's down in the box playing the run or when asked play with a creative edge like a Troy Polamalu. His balls skills are below average and he isn't one of those guys who seem to be in the right spot at the right time. His interceptions and pass break-ups were hard earned at USC.
Overall Impression: I, like many, liked Taylor Mays coming out of USC. Many of us thought the Bengals would consider him in the first round. My infatuation with Mays grew from the way I've seen Mike Zimmer rejuvenate the careers of safeties in the NFL (Roy Williams, Chris Crocker, and Lawyer Milloy in Atlanta). I think Zimmer does a great job at maximizing a safety's natural ability and minimizing their vulnerability in coverage (Chinedum Ndukwe). The most recent resurrection has been with Reggie Nelson. In Jacksonville, Nelson was asked to play more man coverage and FS almost exclusively. In Cincinnati, Nelson has fit in with Mike Zimmer's cast-offs at safety. He likes to rotate his FS and SS in an attempt to keep the offense guessing and use a particular player's strength to his advantage. If an offense doesn't known where Roy Williams was going to line up, it made it harder to call plays to take advantage of his weak coverage abilities. Taylor Mays can be used in the same way. He can play both FS and SS, mixing in some blitzes, run support, and deep coverage to keep him protected from being attacked by the offense. At this point, I think Mays is the third safety on this roster, but injuries have plagued the position over the past few seasons and I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the field by season's end. If Zimmer can get the best out of Taylor Mays, much like he has so far with Reggie Nelson, the Bengals could potentially be looking at a tandem of defensive backs with the skills to be some of the best in the NFL.